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The coevolution of human fertility and wealth inheritance strategies

Mace, R; (1998) The coevolution of human fertility and wealth inheritance strategies. PHILOSOPHICAL TRANSACTIONS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES , 353 (1367) 389 - 397.

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Abstract

Life history theory concerns the scheduling of births and the level of parental investment in each offspring. In most human societies the inheritance of wealth is an important part of parental investment. Patterns of wealth inheritance and other reproductive decisions, such as family size, would be expected to influence each other. Here I present an adaptive model of human reproductive decision-making, using a state-dependent dynamic model. Two decisions made by parents are considered: when to have another baby, and thus the pattern of reproduction through life; and how to allocate resources between children at the end of the parents' life. Optimal decision rules are those that maximize the number of grandchildren. Decisions are assumed to depend on the state of the parent, which is described at any time by two variables: number of living sons, and wealth. The dynamics of the model are based on a traditional African pastoralist system, but it is general enough to approximate to any means of subsistence where an increase in the amount of wealth owned increases the capacity for future production of resources. The model is used to show that, in the unpredictable environment of a traditional pastoralist society, high fertility and a biasing of wealth inheritance to a small number of children are frequently optimal. Most such societies are now undergoing a transition to lower fertility, known as the demographic transition. The effects on fertility and wealth inheritance strategies of reducing mortality risks, reducing the unpredictability of the environment and increasing the costs of raising children are explored. Reducing mortality has little effect on completed family sizes of living children or on the wealth they inherit. Increasing the costs of raising children decreases optimal fertility and increases the inheritance left to each child at each level of wealth, and has the potential to reduce fertility to very low levels. The results offer an explanation for why wealthy families are frequently also those with the smallest number of children in heterogenous, post-transition societies.

Type:Article
Title:The coevolution of human fertility and wealth inheritance strategies
Location:SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Keywords:human life history, fertility, mortality, wealth inheritance, primogeniture, demographic transaction, CHILD-MORTALITY, REPRODUCTIVE SUCCESS, PARENTAL INVESTMENT, GABBRA PASTORALISTS, RURAL AREA, INFANT, MODEL, STATE, LIFE, BANGLADESH
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > Anthropology

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