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J Biosoc Sci. 2002 Oct;34(4):463-73.

Reproduction in high altitude Aymara: physiological stress and fertility planning?

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UMR 6578 CNRS, Université de la Méditerranée, Instituto Boliviano de Biologia de Altura, La Paz, Bolivia.


Reproductive characteristics at high altitude are described based on the reproductive histories of 720 Aymara women, collected in 1998 and 1999 in a group of twelve peasant communities at a mean altitude of 4000 m in the Bolivian Altiplano. The reproductive pattern is shaped by a late onset of childbearing, associated with a rather short reproductive span and large birth intervals. Environmental conditions could explain the particularly late age at menarche of rural girls compared with their urban counterparts, whereas the age at first birth is likely to be under cultural control. The short reproductive span appears to result from a large mean interval between last birth and menopause, which is essentially determined by cultural decisions. The birth intervals, which are longer than in many traditional societies, could be the result of a slower restoration of postpartum fecundability induced by the hard way of life inherent in the Altiplano (including poor sanitary and nutritional conditions and high workload), perhaps aggravated by hypoxia. However, a secular trend in fertility is perceptible, towards earlier menarche, earlier age at first birth, increasing reproductive span and a slight increase in live births and surviving offspring, which is probably the result of a slow improvement in living conditions. The existence of birth control on the one hand, and a total fertility rate averaging six live births among the couples who do not practise contraception on the other, are other arguments against the hypothesis of a low natural fecundity in these Aymara groups.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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