Skip to main content

The Four Demographic Regimes

  • 145 Accesses

Part of the SpringerBriefs in Population Studies book series (BRIEFSPOPULAT)


Ascertaining where was the locus and what was the modus of control over reproduction in prehistoric times is difficult as reproductive behaviors do not fossilize. I draw on several sources to infer the characteristics of the ‘Paleo’ Regime.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution.

Buying options

USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
USD   39.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD   54.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Learn about institutional subscriptions

Change history

  • 20 February 2020

    The original version of the book was inadvertently published with incorrect equation in Chapter 4. The erratum chapter has been updated with the changes and the correct presentation is given here.


  1. 1.

    See also Cohen (2018), who argues that “kinship rules have organized reproductive behavior, probably since hominids came into existence” (Cohen 2018: 377).

  2. 2.

    In the process, she had to deal with males like Uranos who were interested in mating but not offspring. According to the myth, he was pushing the children back into Gaia as they were emerging, causing her enormous pain and pushing her to have one of these children, Kronos, castrate his father. Kronos himself was afraid of his children, so he kept swallowing them until Rhea tricked him in swallowing a stone instead of the new-born Zeus, who had to be hidden from his father until reaching manhood.

  3. 3.

    Guthrie (2005) assumes that the authors of the figurines were likely adolescent males based on a metric analysis of the Paleolithic stencils of hands on the walls of caves; on the basis of his estimates of the waist to hip ratio in the figurines, he deduces that Paleolithic men were attracted to “curvier” women (Guthrie 2005).

  4. 4.

    Specifically, McDermott (1996) uses photographic simulations of what a woman sees of herself and demonstrates that the anatomical omissions and the distorted proportions observed in Venus figurines correspond to the view that a (pregnant) woman would have of her own body.

  5. 5.

    See Sommer (2000) and Rees (2009) on that debate; Hausfater and Hrdy (1984) is the most widely cited work on the importance of infanticide in primates and humans; Sussman et al. (1994) summarizes the arguments of the sceptics.

  6. 6.

    See also Obladen (2016a, b, c), who reviews the legislation on infanticide since antiquity as an indicator of the changing attitudes towards it.

  7. 7.

    This is a sample of 186 cultures (relatively independent from each other), which was put together by Murdock (Murdock and White 1969).

  8. 8.

    For example, Gimbutas (1991) herself proposed to refer to egalitarian matrilineal societies as “matristic” rather than matriarchal. Dashu (2005) preferred the term “matrix” societies, which according to her “implies a social network based on the life support system as well as mother-right” (Dashu 2005: 186).

  9. 9.

    These figures need to be interpreted with caution given the difficulties in reconstructing Paleolithic diets and the fact that our ancestors have lived in diverse ecosystems, hence their diets must have adapted to the available resources (see e.g. Milton 2000).

  10. 10.

    As of the writing of this text.

  11. 11.

    For a review of the main theories about the prehistoric shift from foraging to farming see Weisdorf (2005).

  12. 12.

    Thus, according to Bocquet-Appel the NDT is a mirror image of the contemporary demographic transition, where a mortality decline precedes the decrease in fertility (Bocquet-Appel and Bar-Yosef 2008).

  13. 13.

    The metabolic load model (see Valeggia and Ellison 2009) postulates that maternal energy availability is the main determinant of postpartum ovarian function and through it of inter-birth intervals.

  14. 14.

    Harper (2012) argues that this duality in treating women of different social standing was also reflected in the interpretation of sexual sin in early Christianity, which was determined by a woman’s place in society.

  15. 15.

    Dabhoiwala (2012) argues that the first sexual revolution took place in the late 17th and 18th centuries as part of the European and North American Enlightenment and helped create a new model of Western civilization (see also Ingram 2017).

  16. 16.

    This is not the only evolved mechanism related to human reproduction that does not fit the realities of contemporary life in ‘Western’ societies. For example, Trevathan (2010), Whitten (1999) and others have pointed out that there is an evolved link between levels of estrogen (the primary female sex hormone, which plays a critical role in fertility) and dietary patterns, as in our evolutionary past the latter were signaling scarcity (low calories, vegetarian, high fiber) or plenty (high fat). Vegetarian diets, particularly when fiber intake is high, and overall caloric intake is low, are associated with lower levels of estrogen; high-fat diets are associated with higher levels of estrogen.

  17. 17.

    New male contraceptives have been actively worked on during the last decades. Recently, an experimental oral contraceptive for men passed phase 1 clinical trial in the US (Wu et al. 2019). Separately, an injectable male hormonal contraceptive was tested but the clinical trial had to be stopped because of concerns about side effects. Human clinical trials were also undertaken on a contraceptive that stops sperm with a single injection to the testes. It is non-hormonal, reversible and long term (Colagross-Schouten et al. 2017). Khourdaji et al. (2018) present a good summary of the current status of the work on male contraceptives.

  18. 18.

    An important disclaimer here is that for many species we do not have sufficient data to ascertain whether or not they experience post reproductive life (Croft et al. 2015; see also Ellis et al 2018).

  19. 19.

    Although men also experience a decline in reproductive capacities with age, it is a function of general senescence, ill health, or social, economic or cultural factors. The decreasing testosterone levels related to aging in men is sometimes referred to as andropause, although it is very different from the menopause of women, as men preserve their capacity to father children until late in life.

  20. 20.

    Interestingly, the antagonistic pleiotropy hypothesis was first proposed as an evolutionary explanation for senescence by George C. Williams in 1957, in the same paper where he outlined the mother hypothesis (Williams 1957).

  21. 21.

    Pavard et al. (2008) test the mother hypothesis and find that menopause and the post-reproductive life are adaptive and result in a net inclusive fitness benefit if maternal mortality and the stillbirth and birth defect probabilities rise up to 1 after age 45. While age-specific maternal mortality follows a J-shape, increasing significantly at older ages (see Fig. 4.3), it does not reach levels that would fully justify such an assumption (e.g. in Africa less than 4 women aged 45–49 die of causes related to pregnancy and childbirth per 100 live births in that age group—see Table 4.1).

  22. 22.

    The title of this Box is borrowed from the sub-title of Alice Walker and Pratibha Parmar’s award-winning documentary and subsequent book “Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women” (Walker and Parmar 1993).

  23. 23.

    This is the definition of female genital mutilation (FGM) used by international organizations (WHO 1997, 2006b). Some refer to this practice as female genital cutting (FGC) or female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) to reflect the importance of using non-judgmental terminology (UNICEF 2013, WHO 2006b). The terms female circumcision, clitoridectomy, excision, and infibulation are also used, sometimes interchangeably, even though they may refer to different variations of this practice, which WHO classifies in 4 types depending on the anatomical extent of the cutting (WHO 1997, 2006b).

  24. 24.

    Twenty-seven of these countries are in Africa, plus Iraq, Yemen and Indonesia (UNICEF 2016).

  25. 25.

    Some argue that Herodotus had confirmed the practice of female circumcision during his mid-fifth-century BCE visit to Egypt, and that there were signs of genital mutilation in 5th and 2nd century BCE female mummies. It is unclear whether Herodotus refers also to women when he writes about circumcision in his Historiae, Book II, Euterpe (cf. the text on Project Gutenberg:; it is also difficult to ascertain female genital mutilation in mummies (see Knight 2001; Johnsdotter 2012). There is a fifth-century BCE reference to clitoridectomy by Xantos of Lydia, as a Lydian practice to preserve the youthful beauty of a woman, similar to castration in boys (Rowlandson 1998). This seems to refer, though to a limited practice (like castration of boys) rather than a general custom. Surgery for excessively large clitoris is known to have been discussed in medical treatises and practiced in ancient Greece (Knight 2001; Johnsdotter 2012).

  26. 26.

    Another aspect of pastoralist lifestyle that might be linked to the emergence of FGM is the fact that in many nomadic pastoralist groups spouses spend a long time away from each other as women and girls tend for smaller animals closer to the home base, while men tend for the large animals (cattle, camels) and often have to take them far away from the home base in search of pastures and water. Infibulation could have, thus, emerged as a means to limit the sexual access to women during the periods of separation.

  27. 27.

    The recent deaths of several Somali girls following FGM was covered widely by international media (see e.g. Hodal 2018).

  28. 28.

    Paradoxically, we became fully aware of the anatomical complexities of the clitoris only at the turn of the 21st century through the work of the Australian urologist Helen O’Connell and her colleagues (1998, 2005).

  29. 29.

    On this background, the increasing incidence of vaginal plastic surgeries and the growing demand for “vaginal rejuvenation” and “designer vaginas” is ironic. According to statistics of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), over 10,000 labiaplasties have been performed annually in the US over the past two years (2018 and 2017), and these figures cover only the procedures done by ASPS member surgeons (American Society of Plastic Surgeons 2019). This surgery involves reducing the size or altering the shape of the labias for esthetic purposes, so it could formally fall under the definition of FGM, as partial removal of women’s external genitalia for non-medical reasons (WHO 1997, 2006b). This raises important questions on how social norms continue to affect the lives of women (for more on that see Liao and Creighton 2019; Nurka 2019; Green 2005).

  30. 30.

    Interestingly, Gunnar Myrdal, the 1974 Nobel Prize winner in economics, referred to the concept of optimum population as “one of the most sterile ideas” that grew out of population economics (Myrdal 1940: 26).

  31. 31.

    The societal shifts/developments and technological advancements that made AR possible influenced also human sexuality and associated behaviors. As many have pointed out, pornography materially changed the way men and women interact (see e.g. Maas et al. 2018). The development and wider availability of virtual reality technologies and their nexus with pornography is likely to lead to further fundamental changes in the way people express and consume their sexuality (for different aspects of this see the contributions in Nixon and Düsterhöft 2018, as well as Gibson 2020).

  32. 32.

    See also Chapais (2008).

  33. 33.

    This effect is well-known from stable population theory and is expressed by the formula:

    $$ R_{0} = e^{rT} \qquad\qquad \text{or} \qquad\qquad T = \frac{ln\,R_{0}}{r} $$

    where: R0—is the net reproduction rate; T—mean length of a generation; r—intrinsic rate of population growth.

  34. 34.

    As pointed out in Box 5 and shown in Fig. 4.4, having women deliver in their late 40s or even early 50 was not unusual in the “pre-transitional” societies. The difference is that in these societies late births were generally higher parity and part of a larger generation of children, thus the effect of late parenthood on the inter-generational relations was different.

  35. 35.

    At least 4 women have since claimed to have given birth after reaching age 70. All of them are from India and none has a birth certificate to validate their age. The latest case, as of the writing of this text, was that of a reportedly 73- or 74-year-old woman from Andhra Pradesh who delivered twin baby girls on 5 September 2019 following IVF. Her husband and proud father of the twins, who’s age has been variously reported between 78 and 82 years old, had to be hospitalized on the day after the delivery after suffering a stroke (see Cockburn 2019 for an example of the media coverage of this case).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nikolai Botev .

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2020 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG

About this chapter

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Botev, N. (2020). The Four Demographic Regimes. In: The Sexuality-Reproduction Nexus and the Three Demographic Transitions. SpringerBriefs in Population Studies. Springer, Cham.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-030-37554-6

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-030-37555-3

  • eBook Packages: Social SciencesSocial Sciences (R0)

Publish with us

Policies and ethics