Life-history theory, chronic childhood illness and the timing of first reproduction in a British birth cohort

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Abstract

Life-history theoretical models show that a typical evolutionarily optimal response of a juvenile organism to high mortality risk is to reach reproductive maturity earlier. Experimental studies in a range of species suggest the existence of adaptive flexibility in reproductive scheduling to maximize fitness just as life-history theory predicts. In humans, supportive evidence has come from studies comparing neighbourhoods with different mortality rates, historical and cross-cultural data. Here, the prediction is tested in a novel way in a large (n = 9099), longitudinal sample using data comparing age at first reproduction in individuals with and without life-expectancy-reducing chronic disease diagnosed during childhood. Diseases selected for inclusion as chronic illnesses were those unlikely to be significantly affected by shifting allocation of effort away from reproduction towards survival; those which have comparatively large effects on mortality and life expectancy; and those which are not profoundly disabling. The results confirmed the prediction that chronic disease would associate with early age at first reproduction: individuals growing up with a serious chronic disease were 1.6 times more likely to have had a first child by age 30. Analysis of control variables also confirmed past research findings on links between being raised father-absent and early pubertal development and reproduction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2998-3002
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume279
Issue number1740
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes

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life history theory
chronic diseases
childhood
Reproduction
Chronic Disease
life history
Parturition
life expectancy
Life Expectancy
Mortality
mortality
mortality risk
prediction
Cytomegalovirus Infections
fathers
sexual maturity
Fathers
early development
fitness
Theoretical Models

Cite this

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abstract = "Life-history theoretical models show that a typical evolutionarily optimal response of a juvenile organism to high mortality risk is to reach reproductive maturity earlier. Experimental studies in a range of species suggest the existence of adaptive flexibility in reproductive scheduling to maximize fitness just as life-history theory predicts. In humans, supportive evidence has come from studies comparing neighbourhoods with different mortality rates, historical and cross-cultural data. Here, the prediction is tested in a novel way in a large (n = 9099), longitudinal sample using data comparing age at first reproduction in individuals with and without life-expectancy-reducing chronic disease diagnosed during childhood. Diseases selected for inclusion as chronic illnesses were those unlikely to be significantly affected by shifting allocation of effort away from reproduction towards survival; those which have comparatively large effects on mortality and life expectancy; and those which are not profoundly disabling. The results confirmed the prediction that chronic disease would associate with early age at first reproduction: individuals growing up with a serious chronic disease were 1.6 times more likely to have had a first child by age 30. Analysis of control variables also confirmed past research findings on links between being raised father-absent and early pubertal development and reproduction.",
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Life-history theory, chronic childhood illness and the timing of first reproduction in a British birth cohort. / Waynforth, David.

In: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Vol. 279, No. 1740, 07.08.2012, p. 2998-3002.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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