Environmental contingency in life history strategies: the influence of mortality and socioeconomic status on reproductive timing

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Feb;100(2):241-54. doi: 10.1037/a0021082.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Cues
  • Family / psychology
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Poverty / psychology
  • Reproduction*
  • Social Class*
  • Social Environment*
  • Students / psychology
  • Young Adult