No Country for Old Men
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Within affluent societies, people who grow up in deprived areas begin reproduction much earlier than their affluent peers, and they display a number of other behaviors adapted to an environment in which life will be short. The psychological mechanisms regulating life-history strategies may be sensitive to the age profile of the people encountered during everyday activities. We hypothesized that this age profile might differ between environments of different socioeconomic composition. We tested this hypothesis with a simple observational study comparing the estimated age distribution of people using the streets in an affluent and a socioeconomically deprived neighborhood which were closely matched in other ways. We were also able to use the UK census to compare the age profile of observed street users with the actual age profile of the community. We found that people over 60 years of age were strikingly less often observed on the street in the deprived than in the affluent neighborhood, whereas young adults were observed more often. These differences were not reflections of the different age profiles of people who lived there, but rather of differences in which residents use the streets. The way people use the streets varies with age in different ways in the affluent and the deprived neighborhoods. We argue that chronic exposure to a world where there are many visible young adults and few visible old ones may activate psychological mechanisms that produce fast life-history strategies.
KeywordsHuman behavioral ecology Life history Mortality rates Urban deprivation Social diet Socioeconomic gradients
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