The Evolutionary Demography of Fertility: The Influence of Social Networks

Research Team Seminar

June 19–20, 2012

The Evolutionary Demography of Fertility: The Influence of Social NetworksThe Evolutionary Demography of Fertility: The Influence of Social NetworksResearch Team Seminar Co-chaired by Daniel Hruschka, Assistant Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University ; Rebecca Sear, Reader, Department of Anthropology, Durham University, UK; and Mary Shenk, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri, Columbia, June 19–20, 2012.The Evolutionary Demography of Fertility: The Influence of Social NetworksResearch Team Seminar Co-chaired by Daniel Hruschka, Assistant Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University ; Rebecca Sear, Reader, Department of Anthropology, Durham University, UK; and Mary Shenk, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri, Columbia, June 19–20, 2012.

This seminar brought together an international team of researchers to develop a project and to plan related grant proposals on the use of evolutionary demography to investigate the effects of individual characteristics and social influences on fertility. Social networks may influence fertility in several ways: by actively promoting or discouraging childbearing, providing practical support for childbearing, and spreading ideals of acceptable levels of fertility or practical knowledge about how to limit fertility. Few attempts have been made to test hypotheses about these alternative mechanisms or to combine such analyses of social influence with the existing understanding of the effects of individual social and economic characteristics on fertility decisions.

During the seminar, a group of evolutionary behavioral scientists with a range of expertise in anthropology, psychology, and demography worked together to develop a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary project involving work in the United Kingdom, the United States, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Bolivia, and perhaps other countries. This project aimed to examine individual and social network influences on fertility in several ways: (1) empirical analysis of existing demographic data to explore social influences on fertility, (2) collection of new social network data amenable to analysis using formal social network methodologies, (3) mathematical modeling and simulation to explore the potential dynamics of social influences and their interactions with individual and ecological characteristics, and (4) psychological experiments to explore the individual cognition of fertility decision making and the susceptibility of individuals to different forms of social influence.


Publications from the group are as follows (as of December 2015):

In preparation. Shenk, Mary, David Lawson, Rebecca Sear. “Why Does Fertility Decline? Evolutionary Demography as a Unifying Paradigm for Understanding the Demographic Transition. To be submitted to Behavioural and Brain Sciences.

In press. Lawson, David, Mary Shenk, Rebecca Sear, Hillard Kaplan, and Stephen Stearns (Eds.). Special issue titled “Understanding Variation in Human Fertility: What Can We Learn From Evolutionary Demography.” In Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B. (Sixteen articles, most of which originate from the SAR seminar).

2015. Sear, Rebecca. “Evolutionary Contributions to the Study of Human Fertility.” Population Studies, 69:s39-s55.


Daniel Hruschka, Chair Assistant Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University
Rebecca Sear, Chair Reader, Department of Anthropology, Durham University, UK
Mary Shenk, Chair Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri, Columbia
Nurul Alam Field Research Supervisor, Health and Demographic Surveillance Unit – Dhaka, Bangladesh
Mhairi Gibson Senior Lecturer, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Bristol, UK
Hillard Kaplan Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico
David Nolin Visiting Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Davis
Karthik Panchanathan Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Pomona College
Anisur Rahman Public Health Physician, Health and Demographic Surveillance Unit, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Isabel Scott Lecturer in Psychology, Brunel University, United Kingdom

Sponsored by National Science Foundation

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