Low fertility in contemporary humans and the mate value of their children: Sex specific effects on social status indicators

R. Kaptijn, G.C.F. Thomese, T.G. van Tilburg, A.C. Liefbroer, D.J.H. Deeg

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21 Citations (Scopus)


Evolutionary explanations of low fertility in modern affluent societies commonly state that low fertility is the outcome of high parental investments in the quality of their children. Although the empirical evidence that modern parents do face a quantity–quality trade-off is strong, two issues that are relevant from an evolutionary perspective have not received much attention. First, sex differences in the proximate aspects of quality have been largely ignored. Second, the relationship between the quantity of children and their reproductive success in contemporary low-fertility societies remains unclear. In this article, we study the quantity–quality trade-off as a trade-off between the number of children and the mate value and reproductive success of those children. We examine the trade-off in two steps. First, a lower number of children is expected to increase the mate value of these children. Second, greater mate value is expected to lead to greater reproductive success. Using sex-specific indicators of mate value, we test these hypotheses in a representative sample of the Dutch population aged 55–85 in 1992 (n = 3229). This sample contains information on three successive generations in which the middle generation has completed fertility. We find support for the first hypothesis, but only partial support for the second hypothesis. A higher number of children is traded off against the mate value of the children, but not against their reproductive success. We conclude that the conditions under which the quantity of children is traded off against their reproductive success depend on the social environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-68
Number of pages10
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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