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Demographic Consequences Of Infanticide In Man

Mildred Dickeman
Published 1975 · Sociology, Biology

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The practice of infanticide has been widespread in human cultures, yet, perhaps more than any other means of population limitation, it has been neglected by anthropologist, historian, and demographer. As literature on the subject makes clear, a universal diffidence on the part of practitioners, often coupled with attitudinal bias on the part of the social scientist, has served as justification for inattention. Consideration of specific forms of population control must precede a more sophisticated understanding of the alternative control strategies available to human populations in specific ecological contexts. This review underlines the great potential impact of infanticide as a means of population regulation with social structural implications. Ignoring exceptional and idiosyncratic forms of the practice, I focus here on those cases in which cultural norms raise it to demographically significant frequencies. After reviewing the few existing surveys, I explore potential demographic and social effects on the basis of a few examples and indicate some avenues for future research. If what follows is more speculative and hortatory than conclusive, I must plead the paucity of previous analyses. The destruction of offspring, far from being a uniquely human phenomenon, is widespread in living organisms. In plants, biochemical inhibitors may prevent germination and normal growth of conspecific seedlings except under propitious conditions; in a variety of invertebrates and vertebrates, egg cannibalism, aggressive neglect of young, and cannibalism of injured and dead have been reported as density-dependent behaviors. In mammals, aggressive neglect and cannibalism have
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