Journal Article

Reproduction and longevity among the British peerage: the effect of frailty and health selection

Doblhammer-Reiter, G., Oeppen, J. E.

Proceedings of the Royal Society of London/B, 270:1524, 1541-1547 (2003)

Keywords: United Kingdom, fertility, genealogy, longevity


Whether a cost of reproduction exists among humans is still questionable. A major study of aristocratic British families finds a significant positive correlation between parity and late-life mortality, which indicates a trade-off between reproduction and longevity. This result is supported by four other studies, while earlier studies have not found a relationship or came to the opposite conclusion. We show that in natural fertility populations the relationship between fertility and late-life mortality cannot be studied correctly without considering the effects of differences in health and of mortality selection during childbearing ages because these two effects lead to a dampening of the true relationship. If these effects are controlled in Hollingsworth’s genealogy of the British peerage a significant trade off between reproduction and longevity exists for females but not for males.