Human Nature

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 269–289 | Cite as

Examining the Relationship between Life Expectancy, Reproduction, and Educational Attainment

A Cross-Country Analysis
  • Nicola L. BulledEmail author
  • Richard Sosis


Life history theory aims to explain the relationship between life events, recognizing that the fertility and growth schedules of organisms are dependent on environmental conditions and an organism’s ability to extract resources from its environment. Using models from life history theory, we predict life expectancy to be positively correlated with educational investments and negatively correlated with adolescent reproduction and total fertility rates. Analyses of UN data from 193 countries support these predictions and demonstrate that, although variation is evident across world regions, strong interactions exist among life expectancy, reproductive investments, and educational attainment, and these relationships occur independently of economic pressures and disease burdens. The interactions are strongest, however, in countries with a life expectancy of ≥60 years as these countries tend to have stable economies and a limited HIV/AIDS burden. These findings suggest that policies aimed at influencing education and reproductive decisions should consider environmental characteristics that drive people’s expectations about their longevity.


Demographic factors Educational status Fertility Life cycle Mortality Reproductive behaviors 



We thank Ruthanne Marcus, Merrill Singer, Katherine Hsu, Anna Layton, and Paul Swartwout for valuable comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. A special thanks to Sowmya Rao for all her statistical guidance and continued support.


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© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anthropology, U-2176University of ConnecticutStorrsUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

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