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Darwin beats malthus: evolutionary anthropology, human capital and the demographic transition

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  • Katharina Mühlhoff

    (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid)

Abstract

Declining mortality seems a natural explanation for the demographic transition. However, many economists have discarded improved infant survival as a causal trigger. Moreover, certain currents in Neo-Malthusian economics point to potentially beneficial side-effects of population shocks. Based on historical demography and evolutionary science, I challenge these views. The argument is that uncontrollable (“extrinsic”) mortality creates selective advantages for families with many “cheap” offspring, whereas stable environments favor child “quality”. Combining “life-history-theory” and a unified growth model, I demonstrate that declining mortality and medical progress facilitate the transition towards growth-promoting “low-fertility-high-quality” phenotypes. As it will turn out, this framework produces qualitatively and quantitatively closer predictions of the historical fertility decline than standard models of the Barro–Becker type. Moreover, evolutionary mechanisms provide a parsimonious explanation for diverse demographic transition patterns. Thus, evolved adaptations add a new and culture-free mechanism to older theories. Moreover, regarding sustainable growth, they suggest that natural selection eventually offsets the benefits from population shocks claimed by Malthusian theories.

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  • Katharina Mühlhoff, 2022. "Darwin beats malthus: evolutionary anthropology, human capital and the demographic transition," Cliometrica, Springer;Cliometric Society (Association Francaise de Cliométrie), vol. 16(3), pages 575-614, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:cliomt:v:16:y:2022:i:3:d:10.1007_s11698-021-00234-5
    DOI: 10.1007/s11698-021-00234-5
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Demographic transition; Darwinian selection; Human evolution; Unified growth theory;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D1 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I15 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health and Economic Development
    • N13 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O44 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Environment and Growth
    • Z1 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics

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