Marital, Reproductive, and Educational Behaviors Covary with Life Expectancy

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    There remains some debate as to the relationship between age and abortion rate in the years leading up to menopause: compare Hill and Low (1992) and Tullberg and Lummaa (2001).

References

  1. Boothby, D., & Drewes, T. (2006). Postsecondary education in Canada: Returns to university, college and trades education. Canadian Public Policy, 32, 1–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bulled, N. L., & Sosis, R. (2010). Examining the relationship between life expectancy, reproduction, and educational attainment. Human Nature, 21, 269–289.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Burke, B. L., Martens, A., & Faucher, E. H. (2010). Two decades of terror management theory: A meta-analysis of mortality salience research. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14, 155–195.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Card, D. (1999). The causal effect of education on earnings. In O. C. Ashenfelter & D. Card (Eds.), Handbook of labor economics (Vol. 3A, pp. 1801–1863). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Charmantier, A., McCleery, R. H., Cole, L. R., Perrins, C., Kruuk, L. E., & Sheldon, B. C. (2008). Adaptive phenotypic plasticity in response to climate change in a wild bird population. Science, 320, 800–803.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Chisholm, J. S. (1993). Death, hope, and sex: Life-history theory and the development of reproductive strategies. Current Anthropology, 34, 1–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Chisholm, J. S., Quinlivan, J. A., Petersen, R. W., & Coall, D. A. (2005). Early stress predicts age at menarche and first birth, adult attachment, and expected lifespan. Human Nature, 16, 233–265.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Clutton-Brock, T. H. (1984). Reproductive effort and terminal investment in iteroparous animals. American Naturalist, 123, 212–229.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Creighton, J. C., Heflin, N. D., & Belk, M. C. (2009). Cost of reproduction, resource quality, and terminal investment in a burying beetle. American Naturalist, 174, 673–684.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (1984). A sociobiological analysis of human infanticide. In G. Hausfater & S. Blaffer Hrdy (Eds.), Infanticide: Comparative and evolutionary perspectives (pp. 487–502). New York: Aldine.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Dunkel, C., Mathes, E., & Decker, M. (2009). Behavioral flexibility in life history strategies: The role of life expectancy. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 4, 51–61.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Eisner, M. (2001). Modernization, self-control and lethal violence: The long-term dynamics of European homicide rates in theoretical perspective. British Journal of Criminology, 41, 618–638.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Ellis, B. J., Shirtcliff, E. A., Boyce, W. T., Deardorff, J., & Essex, M. J. (2011). Quality of early family relationships and the timing and tempo of puberty: Effects depend on biological sensitivity to context. Development and Psychopathology, 23, 85–99.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Engqvist, L., & Sauer, K. P. (2002). A life-history perspective on strategic mating effort in male scorpionflies. Behavioral Ecology, 13, 632–636.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Geronimus, A. T. (1996). What teen mothers know. Human Nature, 7, 323–352.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Geronimus, A. T., Bound, J., & Waidmann, T. A. (1999). Health inequality and population variation in fertility-timing. Social Science and Medicine, 49, 1623–1636.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Hill, K., & Kaplan, H. (1999). Life history traits in humans: Theory and empirical studies. Annual Review of Anthropology, 28, 397–430.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Hill, E. M., & Low, B. S. (1992). Contemporary abortion patterns: A life-history approach. Ethology and Sociobiology, 13, 35–48.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Hill, E. M., Ross, L. T., & Low, B. S. (1997). The role of future unpredictability in human risk-taking. Human Nature, 8, 287–325.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Keeley, L. H. (1996). War before civilization. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Lock, J. E., Smiseth, P. T., Moore, P. J., & Moore, A. J. (2007). Coadaptation of prenatal and postnatal maternal effects. American Naturalist, 170, 709–718.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Low, B. S., Hazel, A., Parker, N., & Welch, K. B. (2008). Influences on women’s reproductive lives: Unexpected ecological underpinnings. Cross-Cultural Research, 42, 201–219.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Low, B. S., Simon, C. P., & Anderson, K. G. (2002). An evolutionary ecological perspective on demographic transitions: Modeling multiple currencies. American Journal of Human Biology, 14, 149–167.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Martin, T. C., & Bumpass, L. L. (1989). Recent trends in marital disruption. Demography, 26, 37–51.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Mathews, P., & Sear, R. (2008). Life after death: An investigation into how mortality perceptions influence fertility preferences using evidence from an Internet-based experiment. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 155–172.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Nettle, D. (2011). Flexibility in reproductive timing in human females: integrating ultimate and proximate explanations. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series B: Biological Sciences, 366, 357–365.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Nussey, D. H., Postma, E., Glenapp, P., & Visser, M. E. (2005). Selection on heritable phenotypic plasticity in a wild bird population. Science, 310, 304–306.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Pettit, E. J., & Bloom, B. L. (1984). Whose decision was it? The effects of initiator status on adjustment to marital disruption. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 46, 587–595.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Promislow, D. E. L., & Harvey, P. H. (1990). Living fast and dying young: A comparative analysis of life-history variation among mammals. Journal of Zoology, 220, 417–437.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Quinlan, R. J. (2010). Extrinsic mortality effects on reproductive strategies in a Caribbean community. Human Nature, 21, 124–139.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Roff, D. A. (1992). The evolution of life histories: Theory and analysis. New York: Chapman & Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Roitberg, B. D., Sircom, J., Roitberg, C. A., van Alphen, J. J. M., & Mangel, M. (1993). Life expectancy and reproduction. Nature, 364, 108.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Short, R. V. (1994). Human reproduction in an evolutionary context. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 709, 416–425.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Stearns, S. C. (1992). The evolution of life histories. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Thomas, F., Renaud, F., Benefice, E., de Meeus, T., & Guegan, J.-F. (2001). International variability of ages at menarche and menopause: Patterns and main determinants. Human Biology, 73, 271–290.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Tullberg, B. S., & Lummaa, V. (2001). Induced abortion ratio in modern Sweden falls with age, but rises again before menopause. Evolution and Human Behavior, 22, 1–10.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  37. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2004). World population monitoring 2002: Reproductive rights and reproductive health. New York: Department for Economic and Social Affairs.

    Google Scholar 

  38. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2009). World population prospects: The 2008 revision. New York: Department for Economic and Social Affairs.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Wegner, D. M. (2002). The illusion of conscious will. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Williams, G. C. (1966). Adaptation and natural selection. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Wilson, T. D. (2002). Strangers to ourselves. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Wilson, M., & Daly, M. (1992). The man who mistook his wife for a chattel. In J. H. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind (pp. 289–322). New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Wilson, M., & Daly, M. (1997). Life expectancy, economic inequality, homicide, and reproductive timing in Chicago neighbourhoods. British Medical Journal, 314, 1271–1274.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Worthman, C. M. (1998). Growth and natural selection. In S. J. Ulijaszek, F. E. Johnston, & M. A. Preece (Eds.), The Cambridge encyclopedia of human growth and development (pp. 365–367). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

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.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Daniel Brian Krupp.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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

Download citation

Keywords

  • Life expectancy
  • Reproduction
  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Abortion
  • Education