Environmental Contingency in Life History Strategies: The Influence of Mortality and Socioeconomic Status on Reproductive Timing

  • Griskevicius V
  • Delton A
  • Robertson T
 et al. 
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Abstract

Why do some people have children early, whereas others delay reproduction? By considering the trade-offs between using one's resources for reproduction versus other tasks, the evolutionary framework of life history theory predicts that reproductive timing should be influenced by mortality and resource scarcity. A series of experiments examined how mortality cues influenced the desire to have children sooner rather than later. The effects of mortality depended critically on whether people grew up in a relatively resource-scarce or resource-plentiful environment. For individuals growing up relatively poor, mortality cues produced a desire to reproduce sooner--to want children now, even at the cost of furthering one's education or career. Conversely, for individuals growing up relatively wealthy, mortality cues produced a desire to delay reproduction--to further one's education or career before starting a family. Overall, mortality cues appear to shift individuals into different life history strategies as a function of childhood socioeconomic status, suggesting important implications for how environmental factors can influence fertility and family size.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Childhood development
  • Life history theory
  • Mortality
  • Reproductive timing
  • Socioeconomic status

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