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The influence of perceived mortality risk on fertility preferences: how life history theory and demographic transition theory can collaborate to improve our understanding of fertility decline

Paul Mathews, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Rebecca Sear, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Both life history theory and demographic transition theory predict that fertility responds to changes in mortality. However there has been limited research on the links between mortality perceptions and fertility preferences at the individual level. My previous work found that males, though not females, react to priming about their own mortality by increasing their desired number of children. This research expands on in three ways: i) looking at a more diverse participant population, ii) expanding fertility preferences to consider the desired timing and prerequisites for children iii) investigating the nature of different types of mortality threat. Specifically the relative effects of mortality priming for adult or child mortality and the relative effects of priming for random or non-random mortality (i.e. the extent to which mortality risk can be mitigated by parental investment). This research demonstrates how an understanding of individual behaviour informed by evolutionary theory can help explain population-level phenomena.

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Presented in Session 12: Darwinian approaches to explaining demographic transition