The Trade-Off between Female Fertility and Longevity during the Epidemiological Transition in the Netherlands

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Ralf Kaptijn, Fleur Thomese, Aart C Liefbroer, Frans Van Poppel, David Van Bodegom, Rudi G J Westendorp

Several hypotheses have been put forward to explain the relationship between women's fertility and their post-reproductive longevity. In this study, we focus on the disposable soma theory, which posits that a negative relationship between women's fertility and longevity can be understood as an evolutionary trade-off between reproduction and survival. We examine the relationship between fertility and longevity during the epidemiological transition in the Netherlands. This period of rapid decline in mortality from infectious diseases offers a good opportunity to study the relationship between fertility and longevity, using registry data from 6,359 women born in The Netherlands between 1850 and 1910. We hypothesize that an initially negative relationship between women's fertility and their longevity gradually turns less negative during the epidemiological transition, because of decreasing costs of higher parities. An initially inversed U-shaped association between fertility and longevity changes to zero during the epidemiological transition. This does suggest a diminishing environmental pressure on fertility. However, we find no evidence of an initial linear trade-off between fertility and post-reproductive survival.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0144353
JournalPloS one
Volume10
Issue number12
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
ISSN1932-6203
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2015

ID: 154182753