Catalano R, Bruckner T, Casey JA, Gemmill A, Margerison C, Hartig T
Evol Med Public Health 9 (1) 374-382 [2021-10-20; online 2021-10-20]
The suspicion that a population stressor as profound as the COVID-19 pandemic would increase preterm birth among cohorts in gestation at its outset has not been supported by data collected in 2020. An evolutionary perspective on this circumstance suggests that natural selection in utero, induced by the onset of the pandemic, caused pregnancies that would otherwise have produced a preterm birth to end early in gestation as spontaneous abortions. We test this possibility using the odds of a live-born twin among male births in Norway as an indicator of the depth of selection in birth cohorts. We apply Box-Jenkins methods to 50 pre-pandemic months to estimate counterfactuals for the nine birth cohorts in gestation in March 2020 when the first deaths attributable to SARS-CoV-2 infection occurred in Norway. We use Alwan and Roberts outlier detection methods to discover any sequence of outlying values in the odds of a live-born twin among male births in exposed birth cohorts. We find a downward level shift of 27% in the monthly odds of a twin among male births beginning in May and persisting through the remainder of 2020. Consistent with evolutionary theory and selection in utero, birth cohorts exposed in utero to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic yielded fewer male twins than expected. Our finding of fewer than expected male twin births during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic provides more evidence that evolution continues to affect the characteristics and health of contemporary populations.