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The Key to Wealth is a Small Family?

Update Date: Aug 29, 2012 08:45 AM EDT

Excluding religious or cultural factors (i.e. Mitt Romney and Carlos Slim Helu), it is generally shown that people of higher socioeconomic status have smaller families. While evolutionary biology dictates that successful organisms would try to maximize reproductive success to extend their prosperity through future generations, in industrialized societies around the world, increasing wealth coincides with people delibertley limiting family size.

Researchers from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the Centre for Health Equity Studies (Stockholm University/Karolinska Institutet) and UCL (University College London) suggest that having a small number of children increased the economic success and social position of descendants up to four generations, but reduced the total number of long-term descendants, without ensuring socioeconomic stability.

They conclude that the decision to limit family size can be understood as a strategic choice to improve the socioeconomic success of children and grandchildren in modern societies, but this socioeconomic benefit does not necessarily translate into an evolutionary benefit.

The study, which is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, indicates a conflict in modern societies between behaviors promoting social and economic success and biological success. This is a stark contrast against predated traditions of social success being counted by the number of genetic decedents an individual leaves behind.

The modern family is less about extended responsibilities and more about immediate personal gains and obligations. This would explain why after three generations most first generation members do not consider or regard extended family lines as particularly important. 

Lead author Dr Anna Goodman explains,

"Under natural selection, you would expect organisms to use their resources to produce more genetic descendants, and so increase their Darwinian fitness. The demographic transition is a puzzle because at first sight it doesn't look like people are doing this. One adaptive explanation for the puzzle is that there exists a quantity-quality trade-off, such that having more children leads to those children being less able to reproduce in turn -- i.e. higher 'quantity' leads to lower biological 'quality'. However our study found this quantity-quality trade off only applied to descendants' socioeconomic success, not their reproductive success."

The authors note that while a family of wealthier upbringing would benefit greatly from having a small family, a family of lower socioeconomic status would have relatively little to gain by limiting fertility, rather it would prevent them from sinking further in the hole.

Furthermore, the success of children from lower-income families depends upon a broader range of societal factors and not from inheritance and investments from parents.

Many people would like to believe (disregarding any personal vanities a women might have ) that if they were rich they would have as many kids as they possible, reasoning that if you can afford it, than why not (right, Brad and Angelina)? However, for most, it only takes the first million to realize that sacrifices must be made to keep you sitting on cash and your first billion know that, regardless of any plans you had, this is your money and you're gonna keep it that way. 

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