The Cost of Reproduction in the Gambia: Does Investment in Reproduction Decrease Women’s Survival Rates?

Rebecca Sear, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Life history theory predicts that where resources are limited, investment in reproduction will cause a decline in body condition and ultimately may lower survival rates. We investigate the relationship between reproduction and survival in women in rural Gambia. We use a number of different measures of reproductive investment: the timing of reproduction, intensity of reproduction and cumulative reproductive investment (parity). Though giving birth is clearly a risk factor for increased mortality, we find limited evidence that the timing, intensity or cumulative effects of reproduction have a survival cost. We find evidence for a positive correlation between investment in reproduction and survival rates, so that women who have invested heavily in reproduction have higher survival rates than women with lower reproductive investment. A potential confounding factor may be differences in health between individual women. But even when controlling for health, the positive correlation between investment in reproduction and survival remains unchanged.

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Presented in Session 53: Biology and Demography