Volume 29 - Article 24 | Pages 641–662

Modeling reproductive decisions with simple heuristics

By Peter Todd, Thomas Hills, Andrew Hendrickson

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Date received:03 Apr 2013
Date published:01 Oct 2013
Word count:7012
Keywords:age at first marriage, ecological rationality, heuristics, mate choice, mate search, parental investment
Weblink:You will find all publications in this Special Collection “Theoretical Foundations of the Analysis of Fertility” at http://www.demographic-research.org/special/16/


Background: Many of the reproductive decisions that humans make happen without much planning or forethought, arising instead through the use of simple choice rules or heuristics that involve relatively little information and processing. Nonetheless, these heuristic-guided decisions are typically beneficial, owing to humans’ ecological rationality - the evolved fit between our constrained decision mechanisms and the adaptive problems we face.

Objective: This paper reviews research on the ecological rationality of human decision making in the domain of reproduction, showing how fertility-related decisions are commonly made using various simple heuristics matched to the structure of the environment in which they are applied, rather than being made with information-hungry mechanisms based on optimization or rational economic choice.

Methods: First, heuristics for sequential mate search are covered; these heuristics determine when to stop the process of mate search by deciding that a good-enough mate who is also mutually interested has been found, using a process of aspiration-level setting and assessing. These models are tested via computer simulation and comparison to demographic age-at-first-marriage data. Next, a heuristic process of feature-based mate comparison and choice is discussed, in which mate choices are determined by a simple process of feature-matching with relaxing standards over time. Parental investment heuristics used to divide resources among offspring are summarized. Finally, methods for testing the use of such mate choice heuristics in a specific population over time are then described.

Author's Affiliation

Peter Todd - Indiana University, United States of America [Email]
Thomas Hills - University of Warwick, United Kingdom [Email]
Andrew Hendrickson - Indiana University, United States of America [Email]

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