Developmental influences on fertility decisions by women: An evolutionary perspective
Royal Society of London
School of Medical and Health Sciences
Developmental environments are crucial for shaping our life course. Elements of the early social and biological environments have been consistently associated with reproduction in humans. To date, a strong focus has been on the relationship between early stress, earlier menarche and first child birth in women. These associations, found predominately in high-income countries, have been usefully interpreted within life-history theory frameworks. Fertility, on the other hand—a missing link between an individual’s early environment, reproductive strategy and fitness—has received little attention. Here, we synthesize this literature byexamining the associations between early adversity, age at menarche and fertility and fecundity in women. We examine the evidence that potential mechanisms such as birth weight, childhood body composition, risky health behaviours and developmental influences on attractivenesslink the early environment and fecundity and fertility. The evidence that menarche is associated with fertility and fecundity is good. Currently, owing to the small number of correlational studies and mixed methodologies, the evidence that early adversity predicts fecundity and fertility is not conclusive. This area of research is in its infancy; studies examining early adversity and adult fertility decisions that can also examine likely biological, social and psychological pathways present opportunities for future fertility research. © 2016 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.