Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater: Estimating fertility from subadult skeletons


  • Gwen Robbins

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC 28608, USA
    • Department of Anthropology, 416 Sanford Hall, 225 Locust Street, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC 28608, USA.
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This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: ERRATUM Volume 23, Issue 5, 630, Article first published online: 21 February 2012


Recent research interest has focused on the bioarchaeology of children. Although paleodemography is essential for accurate reconstructions of lifestyle and health in past populations, currently there is no published technique for estimating fertility and life expectancy at birth for skeletal populations in which adults are under-enumerated. This paper provides a formula to predict Gross Reproductive Rate (GRR) from the proportion of young infants to subadults in a skeletal population. The formula was developed from 98 of Coale and Demeny's Female Model West Life Tables, which represented diverse fertility and mortality rates. The formula's accuracy was examined using independent samples from historical and archaeological cemeteries. Estimates of GRR from the subadult fertility formula were compared with estimates from Bocquet-Appel and Masset's juvenile:adult ratio. Results indicate that the subadult fertility formula predicts GRR with consistent accuracy (R2 = 0.98) and precision (± 1 offspring) in the model life tables, across diverse subadult age structures and demographic characteristics. The formula is useful for subadult populations with a proportion of perinates:subadults between 0.12 and 0.45. The adult component of the sample is not included in the analysis and thus the formula is similarly useful in cases where adults are under-enumerated, or not. When applied to historical and archaeological populations, estimates for GRR are similar to previous estimates from the juvenile:adult ratio. Because crude birth rate and life expectancy at birth can be calculated from GRR using established fertility centred approaches to demography, the subadult fertility formula allows skeletal populations of diverse composition to be included in demographic research, essential for understanding of how mortality and fertility are affecting the morbidity profiles of subadult samples and for comparative bioarchaeological analyses. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.