How Development Intervention Drives Population Change in Rural Africa: A Case Study of Applied Evolutionary Anthropology

  • Mhairi A. GibsonEmail author
Part of the Advances in the Evolutionary Analysis of Human Behaviour book series (AEAHB, volume 1)


Rural development initiatives across the developing world are designed to improve community well-being and livelihoods; however, they may also have unforeseen and sometimes negative consequences. This chapter reviews evidence from a series of studies grounded in the framework of evolutionary life history theory demonstrating that the introduction of a recent rural development project has been the catalyst for population changes in rural Ethiopia. Specifically, it identifies that a rural intervention scheme, which aimed to enhance maternal health and child survival through improved water supplies, has also underpinned increases in family sizes introducing greater scarcity of resources within the household. This in turn is linked to an increased outmigration of young adults to urban centres over a 15-year period. In the context of declining ratio of agricultural land to people and few off-farm jobs, this outmigration for employment or education is likely to represent a strategy of resource diversification for intensely competing offspring. I discuss the wider implications of this body of work for improved understanding of the processes which initiate rural-to-urban migration, transitions to low fertility as well as the design and implementation of development intervention across the less developed world.


International development Labour-saving technology Demographic transition Fertility Migration Evolutionary life history theory Applied anthropology Ethiopia 



Thanks are owed to the anonymous reviewers, Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, Fiona Jordan, David Lawson and Josh Pollard for thoughtful comments which have greatly improved this chapter.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Archaeology and AnthropologyUniversity of BristolBristolUK

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