In a new study, researchers suggest that natural selection plays an important role in economic growth and industrialization.
The study was done by researchers Brown University economist. Oded Galor, a professor of economics at Brown, developed the theory 17 years ago.
In the study, the team examined centuries-old French-Canadian genealogical data from Quebec’s Saint Lawrence Valley dating from 1608 to 1800.
They focused on the changes in families’ fecundity or the predisposition toward fertility.
The team found that in those centuries, people who were able to conceive a child shortly after marriage (high fecundity) had more surviving children.
On the contrary, people who conceived months after marriage (moderate fecundity) had fewer children but a larger number of surviving descendants in future generations.
This gives them the evolutionary upper hand.
The researchers also found that the population became less predisposed toward high fertility over the two centuries.
The findings support a theory that during the pre-industrial era, the natural selection of those who were genetically predisposed toward having fewer children was instrumental in spurring industrialization and sustained economic growth.
The theory was published in 2002.
According to the theory, over time nature selected people who had a predisposition to invest in their children.
This helped with a transition from an epoch of stagnation to sustained economic growth.
Before the Industrial Revolution, people lived in what is called the Malthusian epoch, in which humanity had a predisposition toward high fertility.
But the pattern began to change in the pre-industrial era when those with more moderate levels of fecundity began to gain an evolutionary advantage.
When the Industrial Revolution started, their advantage had grown so large that the high-fecundity population became the minority.
People with moderate fecundity started to dominate the population.
The team suggests that this change created ideal conditions for economic growth during the Industrial Revolution.
Families who were less fertile and thus had fewer children had more resources to devote to each child.
Children who came from these families became more educated and can survive better in an era that demanded greater cognitive ability and creativity for technological advances.
The population gradually became more educated, creating a “positive feedback loop” between education and technology and generating sustained economic growth.
The team suggests that the fundamental building block for industrialization is natural selection.
Their results are in line with other results from records in Britain between 1541 and 1871. The team suggests the phenomenon may have extended beyond Quebec and Britain.
The study authors are Oded Galor and Marc Klemp, a visiting scholar in Brown’s Population Studies and Training Center.
The study is published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
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