Why fertility?

Bobbi Low

2019 HBES Lifetime Career Award Winner

Professor, School of Natural Resources and Environment
University of Michigan, USA


In the 1960s, Paul and Ann Ehrlich famously warned of population growth so severe that it was literally a “bomb” that would explode beyond our abilities to deal with It. Today, sixty years later, we face the opposite trend, as several factors combine to yield later and lower births in many countries: intentional delays of childbearing for work and savings, and the sometimes-unexpected fertility costs of delaying childbearing. All of these are complicated by Covid-19. These different causes affect wealthy and poor countries differently, and may prompt national- and state-level responses. How will it affect YOUR life? Should we worry? What kinds of responses, if any, are appropriate?


Bobbi S. Low is Professor Emerita in the School for Environment And Sustainability, University of Michigan, and a faculty associate at Institute for Social Research and the Center for Study of Complex Systems. Her research centers on behavioral ecology and life history theory, and how these influence the patterns we see. She specializes in the evolution and behavioral ecology of resource acquisition; resource ecology of mating systems (including human systems); how environmental conditions constrain the evolution of life histories (especially women’s lives); conflicts of interest in conservation and resource management (particularly in common-pool resource regimes); and, as part of an interdisciplinary group, subsistence patterns and inequality cross-culturally. Her approach links empirical data, analysis, and theory. She has chaired or co-chaired over 150 graduate student theses, and has won awards for both undergraduate and doctoral mentorship. Her interdisciplinary interests have led to three books: Why Sex Matters (now in its second edition); Methods and Models in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation (with Stan Braude); Institutions, Ecosystems, and Sustainability (with Elinor Ostrom, Bob Costanza, and James Wilson); a small monograph (Family Patterns in Nineteenth-Century Sweden, with Alice Clarke and Ken Lockridge); and numerous papers.