Women's subsistence strategies predict fertility across cultures, but context matters

Abigail E. Page, Erik J. Ringen, Jeremy Koster, Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, Karen Kramer, Mary K. Shenk, Jonathan Stieglitz, Kathrine Starkweather, John P. Ziker, Adam H. Boyette, Heidi Colleran, Cristina Moya, Juan Du, Siobhán M. Mattison, Russell Greaves, Chun Yi Sum, Ruizhe Liu, Sheina Lew-Levy, Francy Kiabiya Ntamboudila, Sean PrallMary C. Towner, Tami Blumenfield, Andrea B. Migliano, Daniel Major-Smith, Mark Dyble, Gul Deniz Salali, Nikhil Chaudhary, Inez E. Derkx, Cody T. Ross, Brooke A. Scelza, Michael D. Gurven, Bruce P. Winterhalder, Carmen Cortez, Luis Pacheco-Cobos, Ryan Schacht, Shane J. Macfarlan, Donna Leonetti, Jennifer C. French, Nurul Alam, Fatema Tuz Zohora, Hillard S. Kaplan, Paul L. Hooper, Rebecca Sear

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While it is commonly assumed that farmers have higher, and foragers lower, fertility compared to populations practicing other forms of subsistence, robust supportive evidence is lacking. We tested whether subsistence activities-incorporating market integration-are associated with fertility in 10,250 women from 27 small-scale societies and found considerable variation in fertility. This variation did not align with group-level subsistence typologies. Societies labeled as "farmers" did not have higher fertility than others, while "foragers" did not have lower fertility. However, at the individual level, we found strong evidence that fertility was positively associated with farming and moderate evidence of a negative relationship between foraging and fertility. Markers of market integration were strongly negatively correlated with fertility. Despite strong cross-cultural evidence, these relationships were not consistent in all populations, highlighting the importance of the socioecological context, which likely influences the diverse mechanisms driving the relationship between fertility and subsistence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e2318181121
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number9
StatePublished - Feb 27 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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