Socioeconomic Status, Education, and Reproduction in Modern Women: An Evolutionary Perspective
Susanne Huber et al., 2010
Although associations between status or resources and reproduction are positive in premodern societies and also in men in modern societies, in modern women the associations are typically negative. We investigated how the association between socioeconomic status and reproductive output varies with the source of status and resources, the woman’s education, and her age at reproductive onset (proxied by age at marriage). By using a large sample of US women, we examined the association between a woman’s reproductive output and her own and her husband’s income and education. Education, income, and age at marriage are negatively associated with a woman’s number of children and increase her chances of childlessness. Among the most highly educated two-thirds of the sample of women, husband’s income predicts the number of children. The association between a woman’s number of children and her husband’s income turns from positive to negative when her education and age at marriage is low (even though her mean offspring number rises at the same time). The association between a woman’s own income and her number of children is negative, regardless of education. Rather than maximizing the offspring number, these modern women seem to adjust investment in children based on their family size and resource availability. Striving for resources seems to be part of a modern female reproductive strategy—but, owing to costs of resource acquisition, especially higher education, it may lead to lower birthrates: a possible evolutionary explanation of the demographic transition, and a complement to the human capital theory of net reproductive output.