It has long been a not entirely and wholly serious contention that the bicycle was the one single invention which improved the health of the working man the most. No, not because it provided exercise, but because it allowed courting outside the rather shallow gene pool of the village. It’s one of these things which has a great truth to it, even if we’d perhaps not quite insist upon total and complete veracity.
The interest in repeating this point is sparked by this:
Before the Industrial Revolution in the United States, Canada and Europe, you might have ended up married to a fourth cousin. People didn’t travel far to find a spouse, and the closer you were to home, the more likely it was you’d marry within your family.
Then, in the late 19th century, something changed, and people stopped marrying their cousins.
It has been conventional wisdom that Europeans and North Americans married more outside their families as geographic dispersal ramped up between 1825 and 1875, with the advent of mass railroad travel. But over the same period, the genetic relatedness of many couples actually increased. It wasn’t until after 1875 that partners started to become less and less related.
And when was it that the safety bicycle really allowed such avoiding the cousins?
The safety bicycle: 1880s and 1890s
The development of the safety bicycle was arguably the most important change in the history of the bicycle. It shifted their use and public perception from being a dangerous toy for sporting young men to being an everyday transport tool for men—and, crucially, women—of all ages.
We’ll take that as proof of the contention then. For by far the largest determinant of health is genes, avoiding the problems of close cousin marriage thus works to improve health. Something that certain modern communities who oft practice first cousin marriage would be well to be aware of.
There’s one other point of interest here:
Dr. Erlich and his collaborators took steps to validate the company’s trees, then reported several new findings from the data, such as a lower heritability of life span than others have reported, and a greater likelihood of mothers to migrate than fathers.
We wonder, and it is only wonder, whether that migration rate of mothers differs in societies where women can and do inherit land. Recall that it wasn’t all that long ago, no more than a century or two in most places, that agriculture was the life of the majority of the population. That in turn being reliant upon access to land. Where men and only men inherit it we can see why it is the women who migrate more. Sure, not all men do inherit land but those who do would stay still. Does this change where women can and do inherit upon equal terms as men?
In fact, we can ask much the same question in a different way. Are the male and female migration rates different in a system of primogeniture as opposed to equal inheritance of land among children?