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

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Daniel Nettle

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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.


Publication metadata

Author(s): Nettle D

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Behavioral Ecology

Year: 2010

Volume: 21

Issue: 2

Pages: 387-395

Print publication date: 27/01/2010

ISSN (print): 1045-2249

ISSN (electronic): 1465-7279

Publisher: Oxford University Press

URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/beheco/arp202

DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arp202


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