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Is Menopause Optimal?

Various theories have been put forward to explain the fact that humans experience menopause while virtually no animals do. This paper aims to investigate one such theory: as human babies are usually large and have long gestation periods, a substantial risk of death exists for the mother. It makes therefore sense to impose a stopping rule for fertility. However, this stopping age should not be too low, for the mother needs children to support her during old age. Given an objective (support for old age) and demographics (mortality of mother and children), an optimal age for menopause can be calculated. Using demographic data from populations that have seen little influence from modern medicine, this model is solved for the optimal menopause age, which is then compared to empirical evidence. Plusieurs théories ont été avancées pour expliquer le fait que les humains subissent la ménopause alors que ceci n'est le cas pour pratiquement aucun animal. Ce papier étudie une de ces théories: puisque les nouveau-nés humains sont particulièrement grands et ont une gestation spécialement longue, le risque de décès de la mère est substantiel. Il est donc naturel d'imposer une règle d'arrêt pour la fertilité. Toutefois, cet âge où la fertilité cesse ne devrait pas être trop faible puisque la mère a besoin du soutien de ces enfants pour son grand âge. Étant donné un objectif (soutien au grand âge) et les facteurs démographiques (mortalité de mère et enfants), un âge optimal pour la ménopause peut être calculé. Utilisant des données démographiqes de populations ayant été peu sous l'influence de la médecine moderne, ce modèle est résolu pour obtenir l'âge optimal de la ménopause, qui est alors comparé avec l'évidence empirique.

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Paper provided by CREFE, Université du Québec à Montréal in its series Cahiers de recherche CREFE / CREFE Working Papers with number 99.

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Length: 13 pages
Date of creation: Dec 1999
Handle: RePEc:cre:crefwp:99
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  1. Bergstrom, Theodore C & Stark, Oded, 1993. "How Altruism Can Prevail in an Evolutionary Environment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 149-155, May.
  2. Donald Cox & Oded Stark, 1996. "Intergenerational Transfers and the Demonstration Effect," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 329., Boston College Department of Economics.
  3. Sundstrom, William A. & David, Paul A., 1988. "Old-age security motives, labor markets, and farm family fertility in antebellum American," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 25(2), pages 164-197, April.
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