Human Nature

, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 325–360 | Cite as

Does observed fertility maximize fitness among New Mexican men?

A test of an optimality model and a new theory of parental investment in the embodied capital of offspring
  • Hillard S. KaplanEmail author
  • Jane B. Lancaster
  • Sara E. Johnson
  • John A. Bock


Our objective is to test an optimality model of human fertility that specifies the behavioral requirements for fitness maximization in order (a) to determine whether current behavior does maximize fitness and, if not, (b) to use the specific nature of the behavioral deviations from fitness maximization towards the development of models of evolved proximate mechanisms that may have maximized fitness in the past but lead to deviations under present conditions. To test the model we use data from a representative sample of 7,107 men living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, between 1990 and 1993. The model we test proposes that low fertility in modern settings maximizes number of grandchildren as a result of a trade-off between parental fertility and next generation fertility. Results do not show the optimization, although the data do reveal a trade-off between parental fertility and offspring education and income.

We propose that two characteristics of modern economies have led to a period of sustained fertility reduction and to a corresponding lack of association between income and fertility. The first is the direct link between costs of investment and wage rates due to the forces of supply and demand for labor in competitive economies. The second is the increasing emphasis on cumulative knowledge, skills, and technologies in the production of resources. Together they produce historically novel conditions. These two features of modern economies may interact with evolved psychological and physiological mechanisms governing fertility and parental investment to produce behavior that maximizes the economic productivity of lineages at the expense of fitness. If cognitive processes evolved to track diminishing returns to parental investment and if physiological processes evolved to regulate fertility in response to nutritional state and patterns of breast feeding, we might expect non-adaptive responses when returns from parental investment do not diminish until extremely high levels are reached. With high economic payoffs from parental investment, people have begun to exercise cognitive regulation of fertility through contraception and family planning practices. Those cognitive processes maynot have evolved to handle fitness trade-offs between fertility and parental investment.

Key words

Male fertility Fitness Human capital Modern low fertility 


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Copyright information

© Walter de Gruyter, Inc 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hillard S. Kaplan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jane B. Lancaster
    • 1
  • Sara E. Johnson
    • 1
  • John A. Bock
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerque
  2. 2.Australian National UniversityAustralia

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