The average fecundity per woman varies a lot from country to country. I call average fecundity per woman the average number of born children per woman. In Homo sapiens, what was the average fecundity per woman during the paleolithic age for example? Is it about 2 offspring per woman or about 12 offsprings per woman?

  • $\begingroup$ That goes back about 2.5 Ma - 12k am I right? I'm not an expert, and with all due respect, but my hunch is that the fossil record is very incomplete, and the geologic time frame pretty long. We don't know even how many species of humans there were, let alone reproductive rates during the period. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Jan 2 '15 at 13:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @ChrisStronks I edited my post to clarify that I talk about Homo sapiens when I say "humans". It is plausible that we don't have the tools to answer this question... But I hope that might be wrong and someone could come up with some rough estimate. An estimate can maybe be derived from the number of surviving kids that can itself eventually be inferred from the increasing population through time (itself inferred from genetic data or from the geographical range over which fossils are found). $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Jan 2 '15 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ Do you mean offspring as in individuals reaching reproductive age or as in born children? If the latter it was certainly not 2, since disease, violent death etc were common. If it was close to 2, H. sapiens would have been extinct and we wouldn't be here. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jan 2 '15 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ I meant offspring = born children. I edited my post. THanks $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Jan 2 '15 at 22:26

Infant mortality was high during the paleolithic, so the fecundity of females had to be quite a bit higher than 2 to sustain viable populations.

A recent paper by White (2014) that explores how the ratio of young and old individuals in a population relates to demographic rates compiles data on hunter-gatherer societies from previous studies that you will probably find useful. Among other statistics, that paper reports a range in total fertility of 2.6–8.0. One of the source papers (Hewlett, 1991, pdf here) has data for individual hunter-gatherer societies (along with data from other types of pre-industrial societies). Many populations lie in the range 4-7 offspring. Note however that most (all?) of these values are from current or recent hunter-gatherer societies and not paleolithic societies. However, to give a ballpark estimate they are probably useful and fairly accurate. Also note that the child mortality rate of these societies are often between 40-50% (infant mortality ~10-30%)


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.