Does inbreeding lead to decreased human fertility?

Document Type

Journal Article


Taylor and Francis


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


School of Biomedical and Sports Science




Bittles, A. H., Grant, J. C., Sullivan, S. G., & Hussain, R. (2002). Does inbreeding lead to decreased human fertility?. Annals of human biology, 29(2), 111-130. Available here


In most Western countries there is a widespread belief, fostered in part by historical prejudice and religious proscription, that inbreeding in human populations causes a reduction in fertility. Support for this belief has been claimed in HLA-based studies, with increased rates of fetal losses suggested in HLA-compatible unions. To critically assess the overall status of fertility in consanguineous unions, data on 30 populations resident in six countries were collated from a systematic review of the literature. The mean numbers of live births were then compared in four consanguinity test categories, ranging from second cousin to uncle-niece/double first cousin, and corresponding non-consanguineous reference groups. Linear regressions indicated a positive association between consanguinity and fertility at all levels of inbreeding, attaining statistical significance at first cousin level ( p < 0.0001). The results were, however, subject to a number of potential limitations, in particular lack of control for important socio-demographic variables. To overcome this problem, data on first cousin marriages were abstracted from the National Family and Health Survey conducted in India during 1992-1993. Multivariate analysis showed that fertility in first cousin unions was positively influenced by a number of variables, including illiteracy, earlier age at marriage and lower contraceptive uptake, but the most important of these parameters were duration of marriage and reproductive compensation. In net terms, consanguinity was not found to be associated either with a significant positive or negative effect on fertility.





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