Evolutionary biologists have long considered menopause to be a fundamental puzzle in understanding human fertility behaviour, as post-menopausal women are no longer physiologically capable of direct reproduction. Menopause typically occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, but across cultures and history, women often stop reproducing many years before menopause. Unlike age at first reproduction or even birth spacing, a woman nearing the end of her reproductive cycle is able to reflect upon the offspring she already has—their numbers and phenotypic qualities, including sexes. This paper reviews demographic data on age at last birth both across and within societies, and also presents a case study of age at last birth in rural Bangladeshi women. In this Bangladeshi sample, age at last birth preceded age at menopause by an average of 11 years, with marked variation around that mean, even during a period of high fertility. Moreover, age at last birth was not strongly related to age at menopause. Our literature review and case study provide evidence that stopping behaviour needs to be more closely examined as an important part of human reproductive strategies and life-history theory. Menopause may be a final marker of permanent reproductive cessation, but it is only one piece of the evolutionary puzzle.
- Accepted February 6, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.