The evolutionary ecology of human family size

Ruth Mace

in Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology

Published in print April 2007 | ISBN: 9780198568308
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 The evolutionary ecology of human family size

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  • Cognitive Psychology
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The concentration of reproduction into the central portion of the lifespan means that motherhood involves the expenditure of a great deal of energy. The most likely explanation for how human females achieve this rapid reproduction is with the help of mates and kin. The early termination of reproduction could be an adaptation either to complete the lengthy, child-rearing process without risking early death through maternal mortality, and/or to help daughters with their reproductive careers. Different strategies for optimal reproductive scheduling, and how they depend on the resources available, can be modelled formally using state-dependent optimality theory. However, as the net food supply had not increased and family sizes had increased, childhood malnutrition also went up. This may be a counter-intuitive result for those in the business of supplying much-needed infrastructural development in such areas, but one that can be understood in the light of optimal reproductive scheduling in a natural fertility population.

Keywords: reproduction; motherhood; human; females; mates; kin; mortality; optimal reproductive scheduling; optimality theory; fertility

Article.  8337 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Psychology ; Cognitive Neuroscience

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