Reproductive suppression and longevity in human birth cohorts

Katherine B. Saxton, Alison Gemmill, Joan A. Casey, Holly Elser, Deborah Karasek, Ralph Catalano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objectives: Reproductive suppression refers to, among other phenomena, the termination of pregnancies in populations exposed to signals of death among young conspecifics. Extending the logic of reproduction suppression to humans has implications for health including that populations exposed to it should exhibit relatively great longevity. No research, however, has tested this prediction. Methods: We apply time-series methods to vital statistics from Sweden for the years 1751 through 1800 to test if birth cohorts exposed in utero to reproductive suppression exhibited lifespan different from expected. We use the odds of death among Swedes age 1 to 9 years to gauge exposure. As the dependent variable, we use cohort life expectancy. Our methods ensure autocorrelation cannot spuriously induce associations nor reduce the efficiency of our estimates. Results: Our findings imply that reproductive suppression increased the lifespan of 24 annual birth cohorts by at least 1.3 years over the 50-year test period, and that 12 of those cohorts exhibited increases of at least 1.7 years above expected. Conclusions: The best available data in which to search for evidence of reproductive suppression in humans support the argument that populations subjected to environments dangerous for children yield birth cohorts that exhibit unexpectedly great longevity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23353
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Genetics

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  • Cite this

    Saxton, K. B., Gemmill, A., Casey, J. A., Elser, H., Karasek, D., & Catalano, R. (2020). Reproductive suppression and longevity in human birth cohorts. American Journal of Human Biology, 32(3), [e23353].