Understanding Natural Variation in Human Ovarian Function

  • Peter T. Ellison
Part of the Studies in Biology, Economy and Society book series (SBES)


At the sociocultural level human reproductive decisions are exceedingly complex. Individual motivations are influenced and constrained by partners, peers and family, by religious values and legal statutes, by individual psychology, national economic trends and geopolitical conflicts. Yet reproductive ‘decisions’ of a certain sort are also made at a physiological level. To an extent these physiological ‘decisions’ may be easier to comprehend than those at the sociocultural level in that the patterns they present may be more consistent and easier to describe, although they are not without subtleties of their own. This paper will concern itself with a subset of these physiological decisions, those that are made in the form of natural variations in female ovarian function which in turn, modulate female fecundity. It will not consider the role of lactation in modulating human ovarian function, as that will be the subject of a separate paper in this volume. Rather it will only consider ovarian function in non-pregnant, non-lactating women. Yet within this restricted context considerable variation exists that can be understood not as a pathological failure of homeostasis but as a functional adjustment of female fecundity to the likelihood of a successful reproductive outcome and the balance of competing reproductive and physiological investments.


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© The Galton Institute 1995

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  • Peter T. Ellison

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