Women of the future are likely to be slightly shorter and plumper, have healthier hearts and longer reproductive windows. These changes are predicted by the strongest proof to date that humans are still evolving.
Medical advances mean that many people who once would have died young now live to a ripe old age. This has led to a belief that natural selection no longer affects humans and, therefore, that we have stopped evolving.
"That's just plain false," says Stephen Stearns, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University. He says although differences in survival may no longer select "fitter" humans and their genes, differences in reproduction still can. The question is whether women who have more children have distinguishing traits which they pass on to their offspring.
To find out, Stearns and his colleagues turned to data from the Framingham Heart Study, which has tracked the medical histories of more than 14,000 residents of the town of Framingham, Massachusetts, since 1948 – spanning three generations in some families.
Shorter, heavier women tended to have more children, on average, than taller, lighter ones. Women with lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels likewise reared more children, and – not surprisingly – so did women who had their first child at a younger age or who entered menopause later. Strikingly, these traits were passed on to their daughters, who in turn also had more children.
If these trends continue for 10 generations, Stearns calculates, the average woman in 2409 will be 2 centimetres shorter and 1 kilogram heavier than she is today.
Well, that's assuming the human race lasts that long.
But, leaving that aside, as Echidne of the Snakes points out, the photo (above) that accompanies this New Scientist article is somewhat disturbing.
A bit biased, eh? Note the suit and the briefcase.
Not to mention aggressive stance, the power suit, the whole successful working woman attitude.
Frankly, the photo I would have preferred to see with the story would look more like this.