Inherited dimensions of human populations in the past

Document Type

Journal Article




Computing, Health and Science


School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Science




This article was originally published as: Bittles, A., Murphy, M., & Reher, D. (2008). Inherited dimensions of human populations in the past. Human Nature, 19(1), 1-6. Original article available here


The five papers in this special issue of Human Nature were selected from the proceedings of a multidisciplinary workshop on “Inherited Dimensions of Human Populations in the Past: Exploring Intergenerational Dimensions of Human Behaviour” held in Menorca, Spain, in May 2005. While considerable attention has been paid to intergenerational transmission when it comes to variables such as education and socioeconomic status, there has been comparatively little focus on the role of family factors, including fertility (d’Addio 2007:42), and even less on the mechanisms of transmission. However, the magnitude of the correlation between a woman’s fertility and that of her mother is similar to that of their educational levels, a very widely used covariate. Moreover, the strength of this association is increasing over time and spans more than one generation (Murphy 1999; Murphy and Wang 2001). It also seems probable that the nature and magnitude of intergenerational transfers will influence population composition, since people born into large families are themselves more likely to make an above-average contribution to overall numbers in succeeding generations and to have larger kin networks. The existence of intergenerational continuities in contemporary societies, with their consequent impacts on economic performance and people ’s life expectancy, is attracting increasing attention in both academic studies (for example, Bowles and Gintis 2001) and policy agendas (d’Addio 2007).


Link to publisher version (DOI)