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How much does family matter? Cooperative breeding and the demographic transition.

By R. Sear and D.A. Coall


In this paper we review the empirical evidence that women receive help from family members in raising children, by drawing together published research which has explicitly investigated the impact of kin on child well-being. It is clear from this review that in both pre- and post-demographic transition societies family matters: the presence of certain relatives improves child survival and well-being, though which relatives matter differs between populations. This provides support for the hypothesis that humans are cooperative breeders: mothers cannot raise children alone but need help from other individuals to support their reproduction. We then go on to review the evidence that relatives matter for women’s fertility outcomes. The picture here is less clear cut, but again suggests that the presence of parents or parents-in-law affects outcomes such as age at first birth and length of birth intervals. Overall this survey suggests that women are influenced by, and reliant on, their kin during their reproductive lives, so that changing patterns of association with kin may have a causal role to play in the demographic transition. The implications of these still changing patterns of kin association and child-raising relate not only to the effect they may have on future demographic change, but also to how children are socialised and what effect this may have on future social change

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Year: 2011
DOI identifier: 10.1111/j.1728-4457.2011.00379.x
OAI identifier:

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