Rural household demographics, livelihoods and the environment

Alex de Sherbinin, Leah K. VanWey, Kendra McSweeney, Rimjhim Aggarwal, Alisson Barbieri, Sabine Henry, Lori M. Hunter, Wayne Twine, Robert Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

288 Scopus citations


This paper reviews and synthesizes findings from scholarly work on linkages among rural household demographics, livelihoods and the environment. Using the livelihood approach as an organizing framework, we examine evidence on the multiple pathways linking environmental variables and the following demographic variables: fertility, migration, morbidity and mortality, and lifecycles. Although the review draws on studies from the entire developing world, we find the majority of microlevel studies have been conducted in either marginal (mountainous or arid) or frontier environments, especially Amazonia. Though the linkages are mediated by many complex and often context-specific factors, there is strong evidence that dependence on natural resources intensifies when households lose human and social capital through adult morbidity and mortality, and qualified evidence for the influence of environmental factors on household decision-making regarding fertility and migration. Two decades of research on lifecycles and land cover change at the farm level have yielded a number of insights about how households make use of different land-use and natural resource management strategies at different stages. A thread running throughout the review is the importance of managing risk through livelihood diversification, ensuring future income security, and culture-specific norms regarding appropriate and desirable activities and demographic responses. Recommendations for future research are provided.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-53
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2008


  • Agrarian communities
  • Environmental change
  • Fertility
  • Household demography
  • Lifecycles
  • Livelihoods
  • Morbidity Migration
  • Mortality
  • Natural resources
  • Population dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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