Health costs of reproduction are minimal despite high fertility, mortality and subsistence lifestyle

Michael Gurven, Megan Costa, Trumble Ben Trumble, Jonathan Stieglitz, Bret Beheim, Daniel Eid Rodriguez, Paul L. Hooper, Hillard Kaplan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Women exhibit greater morbidity than men despite higher life expectancy. An evolutionary life history framework predicts that energy invested in reproduction trades-off against investments in maintenance and survival. Direct costs of reproduction may therefore contribute to higher morbidity, especially for women given their greater direct energetic contributions to reproduction. We explore multiple indicators of somatic condition among Tsimane forager-horticulturalist women (Total Fertility Rate = 9.1; n =592 aged 15-44 years, n = 277 aged 45+). We test whether cumulative live births and the pace of reproduction are associated with nutritional status and immune function using longitudinal data spanning 10 years. Higher parity and faster reproductive pace are associated with lower nutritional status (indicated by weight, body mass index, body fat) in a cross-section, but longitudinal analyses show improvements in women's nutritional status with age. Biomarkers of immune function and anemia vary little with parity or pace of reproduction. Our findings demonstrate that even under energy-limited and infectious conditions, women are buffered from the potential depleting effects of rapid reproduction and compound offspring dependency characteristic of human life histories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number30056
JournalScientific reports
StatePublished - Jul 20 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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