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PLoS One. 2007 Jul 11;2(7):e606.

Natural selection on female life-history traits in relation to socio-economic class in pre-industrial human populations.

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Section of Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Turku, Turku, Finland.


Life-history theory predicts that resource scarcity constrains individual optimal reproductive strategies and shapes the evolution of life-history traits. In species where the inherited structure of social class may lead to consistent resource differences among family lines, between-class variation in resource availability should select for divergence in optimal reproductive strategies. Evaluating this prediction requires information on the phenotypic selection and quantitative genetics of life-history trait variation in relation to individual lifetime access to resources. Here, we show using path analysis how resource availability, measured as the wealth class of the family, affected the opportunity and intensity of phenotypic selection on the key life-history traits of women living in pre-industrial Finland during the 1800s and 1900s. We found the highest opportunity for total selection and the strongest selection on earlier age at first reproduction in women of the poorest wealth class, whereas selection favoured older age at reproductive cessation in mothers of the wealthier classes. We also found clear differences in female life-history traits across wealth classes: the poorest women had the lowest age-specific survival throughout their lives, they started reproduction later, delivered fewer offspring during their lifetime, ceased reproduction younger, had poorer offspring survival to adulthood and, hence, had lower fitness compared to the wealthier women. Our results show that the amount of wealth affected the selection pressure on female life-history in a pre-industrial human population.

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