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Am J Hum Biol. 2009 Jul-Aug;21(4):533-40. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.20893.

Is there a trade-off between fertility and longevity? A comparative study of women from three large historical databases accounting for mortality selection.

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  • 1Population Studies Centre, Department of Sociology, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.


Frontier populations provide exceptional opportunities to test the hypothesis of a trade-off between fertility and longevity. In such populations, mechanisms favoring reproduction usually find fertile ground, and if these mechanisms reduce longevity, demographers should observe higher postreproductive mortality among highly fertile women. We test this hypothesis using complete female reproductive histories from three large demographic databases: the Registre de la population du Québec ancien (Université de Montréal), which covers the first centuries of settlement in Quebec; the BALSAC database (Université du Québec à Chicoutimi), including comprehensive records for the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean (SLSJ) in Quebec in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; and the Utah Population Database (University of Utah), including all individuals who experienced a vital event on the Mormon Trail and their descendants. Together, the three samples allow for comparisons over time and space, and represent one of the largest set of natural fertility cohorts used to simultaneously assess reproduction and longevity. Using survival analyses, we found a negative influence of parity and a positive influence of age at last child on postreproductive survival in the three populations, as well as a significant interaction between these two variables. The effect sizes of all these parameters were remarkably similar in the three samples. However, we found little evidence that early fertility affects postreproductive survival. The use of Heckman's procedure assessing the impact of mortality selection during reproductive ages did not appreciably alter these results. We conclude our empirical investigation by discussing the advantages of comparative approaches.

2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

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