In "The Theory of Dyevolution" in the eXile, Richard Bickerstaff riffs on the Cochranian theory of accelerating evolution to suggest that the horrific shortage of men in Russia after WWII led to sexual selection for good looks in women.
I like this article, and I like Bickerstaff's style. Still, my impression is that the numbers generally don't work out on these kind of single-generation selection event theories. This reminds me of the old theory that Steve Levitt's Harvard economist buddy Roland Fryer is trying to revive that African-Americans have high blood pressure on average because of the high death rate on slave ships selected for salt retention.
Is Natural Selection really over? I thought so, But show me a really attractive woman from a photograph before 1910. Being unable to find first-rate hotness in history always perplexed me. The only solution I could conceive was one of those pitiful sophomore "social-constructionist" arguments, which never comfortably rested with my libido. But research recently published in the Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences asserts human evolution has sped up since the invention of agriculture. The authors claim human genetic change has been happening at 100 times the rate of any other period over the last 5,000 years. Since eXile-readers share an interest in hot Soviet-bloc girls and war, I'd like to present a related theory that the two are inextricably linked.
The estimate for Soviet War dead in World War 2 is 24 million (plus five million, if you count Poland). The Soviet casualties are split pretty evenly between military and civilian. The military casualties were men--young men, most without children. Civilian casualties are likely stacked 2-1, men to women. The battle-plan on the Eastern Front was basically Gary Brecher's genocidal "primitive warfare"; men were most worth butchering, whatever the situation, and the nearer to fighting (marrying) age, the better. While the Nazis wanted to exterminate whole Slavic populations for "living space," women were killed less promiscuously. Stalinist purges, likewise, focusing mainly on party-members, also targeted men.
This left Eastern Europe, postwar, with a serious demographic shortage of men of marrying age. [More]
Via email, Greg Cochran pointed out to Fryer:
The reason it wouldn't have an important effect is that you don't get a lot of genetic change in one generation unless you try _really_ hard. If they lost the bottom 15% of the people (in terms of salt retention) during the Middle Passage, a cutoff of about one std below average, the increase in salt retention would be about a tenth or so of a standard deviation, assuming a narrow-sense heritability of 50%. You'd never notice the difference. [And, of course, genetic differences in salt retention didn't cause all the deaths in the Middle Passage, so this estimate is optimistic.]But Fryer wasn't interested in listening to Cochran. After all, what does Cochran know about evolution and genetics compared to a Harvard economist?
Still, the Soviet sex-ratio skew after WWII is a fascinating event that must have had a lot of impact on society, but I've seldom read much about it.
By the way, in Old Master paintings, most girls are a little funny-looking. One partial exception is Botticelli. For example, at Venice Beach in LA around 1980, somebody painted a large-scale mural version of Botticelli's Venus as a roller-skater girl.