Mary Shenk - cultural anthropology


Fertility, Development, and Social Change in Rural Bangladesh

My current research project focuses on the causes of the demographic transition to low fertility in rural Bangladesh, as part of a larger interest in understanding the ongoing global process of fertility decline. The main goal of the project is to compare causal models of fertility decline in order to determine which model, or combination of models, produces the best explanation of a rapid, recent demographic transition in Matlab, Bangladesh. The project will also examine the impacts of the ongoing process of economic development and labor migration on parental investment strategies and marriage practices. The project draws on survey and qualitative interview data based collected during fieldwork in 2010, along with longitudinal demographic records collected by ICDDR,B over the past 40 years.

The project is funded by NSF's Cultural Anthropology Program and Methodology, Measurement, and Statistics Program (BCS-0924630). My colleagues on the project include Mary Towner (Oklahoma State University), Nurul Alam (International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh), and Howard Kress. Several students have worked on different aspects of the project, including primary data collection in 2010, and two of my graduate students are currently conducting dissertation research in the field site on related topics.

Intergenerational Transmission of Wealth and Inequality

Since 2007 I have been a member of a large, collaborative working group headed by Monique Borgerhoff Mulder (UC Davis) and Sam Bowles (Santa Fe Institute) interested in the intergenerational transmission of wealth and the origins of persistent inequality. We meet periodically and work on large-scale comparative projects incorporating data from many different time periods and areas of the world. The major findings of the first phase of our research were published in Science in October 2009 and, in more detailed form, in Current Anthropology in February 2010. The working group is currently in a second phase of research focusing in new directions including gender, fertility, and novel forms of wealth.

Marriage and Parental Investment in Urban South India

My dissertation research examined changing marriage and parental investment strategies in the large South Indian city of Bangalore (now Bengaluru) with funding from the National Science Foundation (BCS-0001523) and later postdoctoral funding from NIH/NICHD (1 F32 HD048064-01). Previous articles focused on parental investment strategies in different social classes, the effects of kin on child outcomes, the causes of dowry inflation, and dowry as a form of parental investment (including the implications for dowry policy). I have also used this data to explore the causes of fertility decline in India. Current work involves examining Indian weddings as costly signals, the importance of paternal investment for adult status-related child outcomes, and taking an evolutionary approach to arranged marriage. Some current research is joint with graduate students.