This research explores the biocultural origins of human capital formation. It presents the first evidence that moderate fecundity and thus predisposition towards investment in child quality was conducive for long-run reproductive success within the human species. Using an extensive genealogical record for nearly half a million individuals in Quebec from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, the study explores the effect of fecundity on the number of descendants of early inhabitants in the subsequent four generations. The research exploits variation in the random component of the time interval between the date of first marriage and the first birth to establish that while higher fecundity is associated with a larger number of children, an intermediate level maximizes long-run reproductive success. Moreover, the observed hump-shaped effect of fecundity on long-run reproductive success reflects the negative effect of higher fecundity on the quality of each child. The finding further indicates that the optimal level of fecundity was below the population median, lending credence to the hypothesis that during the Malthusian epoch, the forces of natural selection favored individuals with lower fecundity and thus larger predisposition towards child quality, contributing to human capital formation, the onset of the demographic transition and the evolution of societies from an epoch of stagnation to sustained economic growth.
demography evolution human capital formation natural selection fecundity quantity-quality trade-off long-run reproductive success economic growth