Low birth weight, maternal birth-spacing decisions, and future reproduction: A cost-benefit analysis

Tamas Bereczkei, Adam Hofer, Zsuzsanna Ivan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this study is an analysis of the possible adaptive consequences of delivery of low birth weight infants. We attempt to reveal the cost and benefit components of bearing small children, estimate the chance of the infants' survival, and calculate the mothers' reproductive success. According to life-history theory, under certain circumstances mothers can enhance their lifetime fitness by lowering the rate of investment in an infant and/or enhancing the rate of subsequent births. We assume that living in a risky environment and giving birth to a small infant may involve a shift from qualitative to quantitative production of offspring. Given high infant mortality rates, parents will have a reproductive interest in producing a relatively large number of children with a smaller amount of prenatal investment. This hypothesis was tested among 650 Gypsy and 717 non-Gypsy Hungarian mothers. Our study has revealed that 23.8% of the Gypsy mothers had low birth weight (<2,500 g) children, whose mortality rate is very high. These mothers also had more spontaneous abortions and stillbirths than those with normal weight children. As a possible response to these reproductive failures, they shortened birth spacing, gaining 2-4 years across their reproductive lifespan for having additional children. Because of the relatively short interbirth intervals, by the end of their fertility period, Gypsy mothers with one or two low birth weight infants have significantly more children than their ethnic Hungarian counterparts. They appear to compensate for handicaps associated with low birth weights by having a larger number of closely spaced children following the birth of one or more infants with a reduced probability of survival. The possible alternative explanations are discussed, and the long-term reproductive benefits are estimated for both ethnic groups.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-205
Number of pages23
JournalHuman Nature
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2000



  • Birth spacing
  • Cost-benefit analysis
  • Gypsies
  • Hungary
  • Low birth weight
  • Reproductive decisions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science

Cite this