Do human parents face a quantity-quality tradeoff?: Evidence from a Shuar community


  • Edward H. Hagen,

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute for Theoretical Biology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 10115 Berlin, Germany
    • Institute for Theoretical Biology, Invalidenstraße 43, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 10115 Berlin, Germany
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  • H. Clark Barrett,

    1. Max Planck Institute for Human Development, 14195 Berlin, Germany, and Department of Anthropology,University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095
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  • Michael E. Price

    1. Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana 47404
    2. Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
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  • This paper is based, in part, on a presentation to the Human Behavior and Evolution Society Annual Meeting, London, 2001.


A number of evolutionary theories of human life history assume a quantity-quality tradeoff for offspring production: parents with fewer offspring can have higher biological fitness than those with more. Direct evidence for such a tradeoff, however, is mixed. We tested this assumption in a community of Ecuadorian Shuar hunter-horticulturalists, using child anthropometry as a proxy for fitness. We measured the impact of household consumer/producer (CP) ratio on height, weight, skinfold thicknesses, and arm and calf circumferences of 85 children and young adults. To control for possible “phenotypic” correlates that might mask the effect of CP ratio on anthropometry, we also measured household garden productivity, wealth, and social status. Regression models of the age-standardized variables indicated a significant negative impact of CP ratio on child growth and nutrition. The age-standardized height and weight of children in households with the largest CP ratio (10) were 1.38 and 1.44 standard deviations, respectively, below those of children in households with the smallest CP ratio (2). Surprisingly, garden productivity, wealth, and status had little to no effect on the fitness proxies. There was, however, an interesting and unexpected interaction between status and sex: for females, but not males, higher father status correlated significantly with higher values on the proxies. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.