Human Ecology

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 79–109

Hunter-gatherer energetics and fertility: A reassessment of the !Kung San

  • Gillian R. Bentley

DOI: 10.1007/BF01531090

Cite this article as:
Bentley, G.R. Hum Ecol (1985) 13: 79. doi:10.1007/BF01531090


This paper examines the question of why the total fertility rate of the !Kung San hunter-gatherers of the Northern Kalahari desert is as low as 4.69 births. When the intermediate variables involved are examined through the employment of a reproductive equation, it becomes clear that low fecundity is a major issue. Arguments offered previously to explain the low fertility of !Kung women, depending on factors such as nutrition, health status, and lactational practices are insufficient. Drawing upon recent data from sports medicine and endocrinology, I suggest that the pattern of San female energetics in their gathering and subsistence routine has a direct effect upon their fecundity. Such a correlation between activity patterns, endocrine function, and reproductive capacity may also be important for understanding the fertility of other mobile hunter-gatherer groups.

Key words

!Kung San hunter-gatherers energetics fecundity fertility 

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gillian R. Bentley
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyNational Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian InstitutionWashington, D.C.

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