Environmental stress and human life history strategy development in rural and peri-urban South India

George B. Richardson, Caitlyn Placek, Vijaya Srinivas, Poornima Jayakrishna, Robert Quinlan, Purnima Madhivanan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Few studies have examined the role of early vs. later environment in the development of life history (LH) strategies, whether age at sexual debut mediates LH development, or whether LH indicators contribute to environmental stress in adulthood. In the current study, we addressed these gaps cross-culturally using data from Jenu Kurubas who live in the rural outskirts of Mysore (n = 133), India, and mixed-caste peri-urban residents in Mysore city (n = 222). Research took place from October 2016–July 2017. First, participants engaged in semi-structured interviews to formulate quantitative measures of current environmental stress (n = 60). Next, participants (n = 355) completed structured questionnaires that measured demographics; early and current environmental stress; and LH indicators including age at sexual debut, facets of impulsivity, education, and number of children. Structural equation modeling was used to test for the developmental cascade reported in Western studies of psychosocial acceleration (e.g., indirect effect of early environmental stress on number of children through age at sexual debut). Consistent with Western findings, environmental stress appeared to hasten sexual debut, decrease self-regulation and educational attainment, and increase current environmental stress in the peri-urban sample. Early environmental stress forecasted younger age at sexual debut in both samples; however, no other effects of early environmental stress nor any associations with current environmental stress were consistent between samples. Although age at sexual debut appeared to translate early environmental stress into greater numbers of children and current environmental stress in the peri-urban and rural samples, respectively, it was associated with different outcomes between the samples and forecasted adult environment only in the rural sample. Taken together, our findings indicate more research is needed to determine whether the developmental cascade suggested by most applications of LH theory to humans generalizes across cultures and rural and peri-urban environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)244-252
Number of pages9
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2020


  • Environment
  • Impulsivity
  • India
  • Life history theory
  • Sexual debut

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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