Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Differential Reproductive Success among the Serbian Jews

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Differential Reproductive Success among the Serbian Jews

Article excerpt

In this paper, we investigate the reproductive differentials of Serbian Jewry along the origin line (Ashkenazi vs. Sephardi Jews), in addition to other variables such as religiosity, out-marriage, Holocaust experience, and political and social standings. We use a genealogy dataset covering three generations collected through original anthropological fieldwork among Jews in Serbia.

Biology offers a theoretical framework for demographic behavior in the form of life history theory. It focuses research on the evolutionary forces that shape the timing of life events, particularly age schedules of fertility and mortality (Kaplan et al. 2001). The fundamental life history trade-off faced by individual women is between the number of offspring produced and their quality. This is based on the assumption that resources are limited. Thus it follows that when investment in offspring number is increased, investment per offspring is decreased. Increased investment in each offspring increases offspring reproductive success and thereby maternal fitness, because a mother's contribution to population growth is determined by the number of offspring entered into the breeding population and the offspring's lifetime reproductive success (Gillespie et al. 2008; Lack 1947). This is the case for animals and for most pre-modern humans before the demographic transition. In modern human populations, this trade-off can be in the form of economic returns, such as having fewer but better educated children who can find higher-paying jobs, meaning that offspring can provide not only biological fitness benefits but also economic gains (Hagen et al. 2006). By limiting family size, or consciously deciding not to reproduce, some could achieve increases in fitness substitutes including status, transferable social and political power, education etc., but at the cost of decreased reproductive fitness (Cvorovic and Nikolic 2012). After all, "Natural selection is not...for complexity or simplicity, altruism or selfishness ...cooperation or conflict, survival or death: it is simply for reproductive success" (Symons 1979, p. 3).

Many times, anthropology has successfully used intersections with genealogy to suggest new disciplinary ways for understanding past cultural experiences and emerging social structures (Cannell 2011; deRoche 2007; Stewart 2003). Other, multidisciplinary works also used historical population records to understand the ecological causes and evolutionary consequences of variation in reproductive success, longevity and life history strategies (Courtiol et al. 2013; Cvorovic and Nikolic 2012; Gillespie et al. 2008; Hayward and Lummaa 2013; Helle and Lummaa 2013; Pettay et al. 2008). Applying evolutionary theory to human life history and demographic data provides understandings not only of the past, but also of modern problems, such as differential ethnic fertility and population growth (Clarke and Low 2001; Coleman 2006; Cvorovic 2012).

Present European fertility, on average, is considerably below replacement (Frejka and Westoff 2008). This "lowest-low fertility" could have far reaching implications for Europe in terms of policies, education, housing, welfare, culture and everyday life (Kohler et al. 2006). At the same time, world Jewry was reduced in size by almost a third as a result of the Holocaust, and the prospect of maintaining the present size has become quite problematic due to low birth rates especially in secular Europe (Della Pergola 1996; Lehrer 2004; Schmelz 1981).

Historical background

At present, there are only around 2000 Jews residing in Serbia and yet, Jews have been present in Serbia since Roman times (Cvorovic 2015). In the late 15th century, a large number of Ladino-speaking Sephardi Jews, fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, settled permanently in the Balkans including Serbia (Benbassa and Rodrigue 2000). Later on, the Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews settled mostly in Vojvodina, then part of the Habsburg Monarchy. …

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