Theories of “life history evolution” suggest that individuals might adjust the timing of marriage and reproduction, as well as their propensity to terminate a marriage or pregnancy and invest in skill development, in response to indicators of the locally prevailing level of life expectancy. In particular, such theories generate the hypothesis that foreshortened time horizons lead to hastened reproduction and marriage whereas lengthier time horizons increase the likelihood of reproductive and marital termination and lead to greater investment in education. Here, I show that the scheduling and occurrence of marital and reproductive behavior (including both initiation and termination), as well as levels of educational attainment and investment, covary with life expectancy, even after controlling for the effects of affluence. In analyses of variation in marital, reproductive, and educational behaviors at two jurisdictional levels in Canada, life expectancy was positively correlated with patterns of age-specific fertility, age at first marriage, divorce, abortion, conferral of high school and higher education degrees (with the exception of the trades) and mean number of years of schooling. The large and highly consistent relationships observed between life expectancy and the behaviors under investigation suggest that these associations may be mediated by individual “perceptions” of life expectancy, though more research is needed before conclusions can be firmly reached.
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This work is dedicated to the memory of Margo Wilson, who knew a valuable datum when she saw it. I thank Martin Daly and Anne Barbeau for helpful comments and discussion, Nick Rogerson for data extraction, and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council for funding.
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Krupp, D.B. Marital, Reproductive, and Educational Behaviors Covary with Life Expectancy. Arch Sex Behav 41, 1409–1414 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-012-9949-z
- Life expectancy