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J Zool. 1987;213(3):489-505.

Resources and reproductive success in women with an example from the Kipsigis of Kenya.



Contradictory results regarding the relationship between resources and reproductive success of women have led some social scientists to conclude that evolutionary biological models are inappropriate to the study of human social behavior. This paper suggests instead that the variability across societies in this relationship reflects an inadequate specification of the nature and availability of the resources critical to reproduction as well as a failure to understand the mechanisms whereby resources confer reproductive success in traditional, developing, preindustrial, and modern societies. These methodological and conceptual issues are illustrated through use of data on the association between wealth and reproductive success from the Kipsigis, a polygynous agropastoralist population in southwestern Kenya. In this society, land is owned by men, and women gain access to land through marriage. In 3 of the 5 marriage cohorts studied, women with access to larger land plots had higher lifelong reproductive success than their poorer counterparts both in terms of enhanced fertility and survivorship of offspring. This association was independent of confounding factors such as education, age at menarche, husband's age, or occupation. Moreover, wealthy women were found not to make greater use of modern medical child health services when their children were sick than poor women. The Kipsigis data indicate that wealthy women had more nutritional resources than poor women and were able to introduce more suitable weaning foods, leading to a lower incidence of episodes of illness in offspring. Overall, the findings suggest that wealth-related differences in the nutrition and health of mothers and children are important factors in reproductive differentials in Kipsigis society.

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