Mothers trade child quantity for quality

Jan 23, 2008

Researchers at the University of Sheffield have shown that mothers are choosing to have fewer children in order to give their children the best start in life, but by doing so are going against millenia of human evolution. The research sheds new light on the decline of modern day fertility.

Researchers Duncan Gillespie, Dr Virpi Lummaa and Dr Andrew Russell, all from the University’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, studied Finnish church records from the 18th and 19th centuries and traced the reproductive histories of 437 women, their 2888 children and 6470 grandchildren.

They found that fertility of children from large poor families appeared to be constrained, potentially due to a lack of wealth and resources. Children from large wealthy families, on the other hand, went on to have large families themselves. According to the research this has caused a trade-off between offspring quantity and quality with modern women choosing to have fewer children so that they can instead invest in their education or career, gaining resources to give their children the best start in life.

The researchers also found evidence for an evolved relationship between a mother’s fertility and the fertility of her children – the more offspring a woman has, the larger her overall family will be. This means that women having fewer children will ultimately have fewer grandchildren.

Duncan Gillespie said: “Before modern day birth control high fertility was a sign of wealth and families would therefore strive to have large numbers of children. However for poor mothers, having more children did not always lead to more grandchildren, due to economic constraints on their children’s fertility.

“In today’s society, this has gone even further with wealthy families choosing to invest in fewer children as well. However, this trade-off between offspring quantity and quality has come full circle in that fewer children will ultimately lead to smaller families. This could help explain the decline in fertility in modern society.”

Source: University of Sheffield

Explore further: Bacteria renew mystery over Chilean poet Neruda's death

Related Stories

Power of apps in preschool literacy

May 19, 2015

Australia is a diverse, multilingual country, with more than 200 languages spoken. However, fewer second-generation Australians speak their parents' mother tongues than in some other Western countries.

Study shows journalism burnout affecting women more than men

Apr 10, 2015

The field of journalism has changed greatly over the last decade, and those changes are taking a particularly hard toll on women working in newsrooms, new research from a University of Kansas professor shows. Female journalists ...

Recommended for you

Bacteria renew mystery over Chilean poet Neruda's death

May 28, 2015

Family of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda said Thursday forensic experts have found evidence of a massive bacterial infection in his remains, increasing their suspicion that he was poisoned by dictator Augusto Pinochet's regime.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.