Human life histories and the demographic transition: a case study from Finland, 1870-1949.

Research paper by Helena H Korpelainen

Indexed on: 11 Mar '03Published on: 11 Mar '03Published in: American Journal of Physical Anthropology


The life histories of humans who were engaged in reproduction during the demographic transition were investigated. It was discovered that these life histories were subject to great changes during the period involving the birth cohorts from the years 1870-1949. Although the number of all and surviving children decreased during this period, the individual fitness values (lambda) of females remained quite even. The lambda values are sensitive not only to reproductive quantity but also to the timing of reproduction. Therefore, the effective change in female fitness during the demographic transition may not be as dramatic as previously thought. When studying the level of selection (or rather the opportunity for selection), it was found that mortality selection steadily decreased to a very low level. However, fertility selection and total selection, which were relatively low for the cohorts 1870-1889, increased before the steep decrease that was detected for the cohorts 1930-1949. The situation reflects the presence of considerable variance in fertility for the cohorts 1890-1929, when the mean fertility was decreasing. A previously found trade-off between female longevity and reproductive success appeared less significant, apparently due to the presence of more plentiful resources and voluntary limitation of reproduction. The deviation from the potential fitness maximization and the presence of subfertility have become prevalent in human populations.