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Abstract

The large human brain, the long period of juvenile dependence, long life span, and male support of reproduction are the co-evolutionary result of the human niche based on skill-intensive techniques of resource accrual. The regulation of fertility under traditional conditions is based upon a co-evolved psychology and physiology where adjustments of investment in offspring depend upon the returns to skill and mortality hazards. When all wealth is somatic, the hormonal system controlling ovulation and implantation translates income into genetic descendants. In modern society the existence of extra-somatic wealth is a critical condition to which our evolved proximate physiological mechanisms do not respond. However, psychological mechanisms regulating parental investment in offspring quality may lead to greater and greater investment in own and offspring education, a smaller desired family size, a delay in the onset of reproduction, and a reduction in the total numbers of offspring produced. This delay in reproduction can cause many individuals to produce fewer children than desired because fecundity falls during the reproductive part of the life course. As more individuals in a society follow this pattern, more will fail to reach their desired family size. At the same time the effective use of birth control decreases the numbers of families producing more children than desired. Below replacement fertility can result. Predictions from this model were tested using data from the National Survey of Families and Households and the Albuquerque Men study. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 14:233–256, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.