• Allometry;
  • demographic transition;
  • human ecology;
  • human life history


The flux of energy and materials constrains all organisms, and allometric relationships between rates of energy consumption and other biological rates are manifest at many levels of biological organization. Although human ecology is unusual in many respects, human populations also face energetic constraints. Here we present a model relating fertility rates to per capita energy consumption rates in contemporary human nations. Fertility declines as energy consumption increases with a scaling exponent of −1/3 as predicted by allometric theory. The decline may be explained by parental trade-offs between the number of children and the energetic investment in each child. We hypothesize that the −1/3 exponent results from the scaling properties of the networked infrastructure that delivers energy to consumers. This allometric analysis of human fertility offers a framework for understanding the demographic transition to smaller family sizes, with implications for human population growth, resource use and sustainability.