Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences

Living Edition
| Editors: Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Todd K. Shackelford

Life History Theory

Living reference work entry

Later version available View entry history

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_1542-1



Life History Theory

A framework for understanding between- and within-species differences in the strategic allocation of bioenergetic and material resources toward competing goals, such as somatic effort, mating effort, and parental effort. Approaches to the study of life history strategies initially focused on biodemographic markers of life history strategies (growth rates, pubertal timing, age at first birth, interbirth interval). Over the last two decades, an increasing body of research has also examined life history using a psychological perspective in efforts to identify additional motivations, attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that may reflect life history strategies (desire to delay reproduction, trade-offs between long-term goals and short-term goals, interpersonal relationships, sociosexuality).

Somatic Effort

Allocation of resources toward one’s own growth, development, and maintenance.

Mating Effort

Allocation of resources toward...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Adair, L. S. (2001). Size at birth predicts age at menarche. Pediatrics, 107(4), E59.  https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.107.4.e59.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Borgerhoff Mulder, M. (2009). Tradeoffs and sexual conflict over women’s fertilitiy preferences in Mpimbwe. American Journal of Human Biology, 21(4), 478–487.  https://doi.org/10.1002/ajhb.20885.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bribiescas, R. G. (2001). Reproductive ecology and life history of the human male. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Suppl 33, 148–176.  https://doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.10025.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Ellis, B. J., Figueredo, A. J., Brumbach, B. H., & Schlomer, G. L. (2009). Fundamental dimensions of environmental risk: The impact of harsh versus unpredictable environments on the evolution and development of life history strategies. Human Nature, 20.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-009-9063-7.
  5. Ellison, P. T. (2003). Energetics and reproductive effort. American Journal of Human Biology, 15(3), 342–351.  https://doi.org/10.1002/ajhb.10152.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Figueredo, A. J., Wolf, P. S. A., Olderbak, S. G., Gladden, P. R., Fernandes, H. B. F., Wenner, C., Hill, D., Andrzejczak, D. J., et al. (2014). The psychometric assessment of human life history strategy: A meta-analytic construct validation. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 8(3), 1–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Figueredo, A. J., Cabeza de Baca, T., Black, C. J., García, R. A., Fernandes, H. B. F., Wolf, P. S. A., & Woodley of Menie, M. A. (2015). Methodologically sound: Evaluating the psychometric approach to the assessment of human life history [reply to copping, Campbell, and Muncer, 2014]. Evolutionary Psychology, 13(2), 299–338.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  8. Gurven, M. (2012). Infant and fetal mortality among a high fertility and mortality population in the Bolivian Amazon. Social Science & Medicine, 75, 2493–2502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hill, K., & Hurtado, A. M. (1996). Ache life history: The ecology and demography of a foraging people. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  10. Hill, K., & Kaplan, H. (1999). Life history traits in humans: Theory and empirical studies. Annual Review of Anthropology, 28, 397–430.  https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.anthro.28.1.397.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Kaplan, H. (1996). A theory of fertility and parental investment in traditional and modern human societies. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology.  https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1096-8644(1996)23+<91::AID-AJPA4>3.0.CO;2-C.
  12. MacArthur, R. H., & Wilson, E. O. (1967). The theory of island biogeography. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Mace, R. (2000). Evolutionary ecology of human life history. Animal behaviour, 59(1), 1–10.Google Scholar
  14. Maisonet, M., Christensen, K. Y., Rubin, C., Holmes, A., Flanders, W. D., Heron, J., et al. (2010). Role of prenatal characteristics and early growth on pubertal attainment of British girls. Pediatrics, 126(3), e591–e600.  https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2009-2636.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  15. Roff, D. A. (1992). Evolution of life histories: Theory and analysis. Springer Science & Business Media.Google Scholar
  16. Rushton, J. (1985). Differential K theory: The sociobiology of individual and group differences. Personality and Individual Differences, 6(4), 441–452.  https://doi.org/10.1016/0191-8869(85)90137-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Rushton, J. (1987). An evolutionary theory of health, longevity, and personality: Sociobiology and r/K reproductive strategies. Psychological Reports, 60(2), 539–549.  https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1987.60.2.539.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Stearns, S. C. (1980). A new view of life-history evolution. Oikos, 35(2), 266–281.  https://doi.org/10.2307/3544434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Stearns, S. C. (1992). The evolution of life histories. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Stearns, S. C., Allal, N., & Mace, R. (2008). Life history theory and human development. Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology, 47–69.Google Scholar
  21. Terry, M. B., Ferris, J. S., Tehranifar, P., Wei, Y., & Flom, J. D. (2009). Birth weight, postnatal growth, and age at menarche. American Journal of Epidemiology, 170(1), 72–79.  https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwp095.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  22. West-Eberhard, M. J. (2003). Developmental plasticity and evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Worthman, C. M., & Kuzara, J. (2005). Life history and the early origins of health differentials. American Journal of Human Biology, 17(1), 95–112.  https://doi.org/10.1002/ajhb.20096.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Southwest Institute for Research on WomenUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Jon Sefcek
    • 1
  1. 1.Kent State UniversityKentUSA