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Dying young and living fast: variation in life history across English neighborhoods

Daniel Nettle

Behavioral Ecology, 2010, vol. 21, issue 2, 387-395

Abstract: Where the expected reproductive life span is short, theory predicts that individuals should follow a "fast" life-history strategy of early reproduction, reduced investment in each offspring, and high reproductive rate. I apply this prediction to different neighborhood environments in contemporary England. There are substantial differences in the expectation of healthy life between the most deprived and most affluent neighborhoods. Using data from the Millennium Cohort Study (n = 8660 families), I show that in deprived neighborhoods compared with affluent ones, age at first birth is younger, birthweights are lower, and breastfeeding duration is shorter. There is also indirect evidence that reproductive rates are higher. Coresidence of a father figure is less common, and contact with maternal grandmothers is less frequent, though grandmaternal contact shows a curvilinear relationship with neighborhood quality. Children from deprived neighborhoods perform less well on a verbal cognitive assessment at age 5 years, and this deficit is partly mediated by parental age and investment variables. I suggest that fast life history is a comprehensible response, produced through phenotypic plasticity, to the ecological context of poverty, but one that entails specific costs to children. Copyright 2010, Oxford University Press.

Date: 2010
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