Biological Impacts of Climate Change and Women’s Livelihoods Among Bangladeshi Shodagor Communities

Monday, March 11, 2024 (2 PM – 3:30 PM)

Katie Starkweather

University of Illinois

Katie Starkweather

Dr. Katie Starkweather is an Assistant Professor of Biological Anthropology at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Prior to that, she held two postdoctoral positions, one as an NSF SBE Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of New Mexico and another at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. She received a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Missouri and a Master’s in Anthropology at the University of Nebraska. Dr. Starkweather works in Matlab, Bangladesh with a group of traditionally boat-dwelling, semi-nomadic Shodagor traders and fishers on issues related to women’s work, parental investment, and household divisions of labor, environmental change, and fitness outcomes associated with these socioecological factors, including reproduction, growth and nutrition, and health outcomes. Dr. Starkweather uses a mixed-methods approach to collect multiple types of cross-sectional and longitudinal data in order to answer research questions associated with her interests, and to address the interests and concerns of the Matlab Shodagor communities.


Human mothers face an adaptive problem. The importance of maternal care and women’s economic contributions to the household throughout evolutionary history and in contemporary societies requires mothers to decide how to allocate their time and energy between work and childcare in ways that support their reproductive success. In Bangladesh, traditionally boat-dwelling, semi-nomadic Shodagor women engage in two different occupations – trading and fishing – that require different trade-offs between time spent in work and in childcare. In this talk, I will discuss these differences and address three questions: 1) What are the social and cultural predictors of variation in women’s work? 2) What role does environmental change play in structuring women’s economic decisions? And 3) Do differences in trade-offs explain differences in fitness consequences for mothers? Examining variation in women’s strategies for solving the adaptive problem of motherhood provides a better understanding of a critical element of human evolution, and also allows scientists to create models to predict how behavior is likely to change in the future in response to ecological changes (e.g., climate change, local disease ecologies) and to predict the impacts of this on human biology.



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