An adaptive model for predicting !kung reproductive performance: A stochastic dynamic programming approach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


A stochastic dynamic programming model is presented that supports and extends work on the reproductive performance of the !Kung Bushmen (Lee 1972; Blurton Jones and Sibly 1978; Blurton Jones 1986), proposing that !Kung women and their reproductive systems may be maximizing reproductive success. The stochastic dynamic programming approach allows the construction of a whole-life model where the physical/environmental constraints along with the uncertainty about future events !Kung women face when making reproductive choices can be explicitly built in. The model makes quantitative predictions for the optimal reproductive strategy assuming !Kung women are maximizing expected lifetime reproduction (ELR) given the physical parameters of !Kung life. The model relies on data gathered from the works cited above and some considerations from simple probability theory. The model predictions for optimal birth spacing match the !Kung reproductive data very well and support earlier findings (Blurton Jones and Sibly; Blurton Jones 1986). The utility of the dynamic modeling approach is illustrated when the effects of varying certain model parameters are investigated. By including the effect of the mother's mortality, which was not included in the Blurton Jones and Sibly (1978) analysis, the model allows for further exploration of the application of an adaptive approach to human reproductive performance. By adding some considerations about the risks of childbirth for the mother the model not only predicts optimal birth spacing, which is site specific, but also predicts the optimal time for a woman to begin and cease having children. These predictions coincide with menarche and menopause and shed light on their possible adaptive value.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-245
Number of pages25
JournalEthology and Sociobiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Birth spacing
  • Kung Bushman
  • Menopause;
  • Stochastic dynamic programming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'An adaptive model for predicting !kung reproductive performance: A stochastic dynamic programming approach'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this