David Lawson

David Lawson
University of California, Santa Barbara
Assistant Professor

David W. Lawson is an evolutionary anthropologist and population health scientist with interests in the family, childhood and human wellbeing, particularly in the context of the social and demographic changes that accompany economic development. His research practice combines primary data collection in the field and secondary analysis of existing large-scale demographic and health surveys from both contemporary African and European contexts. Current research topics include: the health and wellbeing implications of polygynous marriage and child marriage, evolutionary perspectives on variation in human fertility and the demographic transition, and time allocation trade-offs between child labor and schooling. He is an advocate of the applied potential of evolutionary anthropology to both critique and guide the international development sector. His research is carried out in collaboration with research partners in Tanzania, including the NGO ‘Savannas Forever Tanzania’ in Arusha (northeast Tanzania) and the National Institute for Medical Research in Mwanza (northwest Tanzania).

Grants, Awards and Distinctions:

National Science Foundation Senior Research Award (PI). 2019-2020. Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Cultural Practices. $199,074. 

Hellman Fellowship (PI). 2018-2019. Understanding Men’s Incentives for Women’s Empowerment: Testing predictions from sexual conflict theory in Tanzania. $40,905.

UCSB Regents Junior Faculty Fellowship (PI). 2019. Understanding Men’s Incentives for Women’s Empowerment: Testing predictions from sexual conflict theory in Tanzania. $7,500.


Berg V, Lawson DW, Rotkirch A. 2020. 
"Financial opportunity costs and deaths among close kin are independently associated with reproductive timing in a contemporary high-income society. "
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
Lawson DW. In press. 
"Parental care."
In Koster J, Scelza B, Shenk M (Eds). Human Behavioral Ecology.
Lawson DW & Gibson MA. In press. 
"Evolutionary Approaches to Population Health: Insights on Polygynous Marriage, ‘Child Marriage’ and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. "
Burger O, Lee R & Sear, R. (Eds). Human Evolutionary Demography.
Hassan A, Schaffnit SB, Sear R, Urassa M & Lawson DW. 2019. 
"Fathers favour sons, mothers don’t discriminate: sex-biased parental care in north-western Tanzania. "
Evolutionary Human Sciences. 1, e13.
Hedges S, Sear R, Todd J, Urassa M & Lawson DW. 2019. 
"Earning their keep? Fostering, children’s education and work in north-western Tanzania. "
Demographic Research.
Schaffnit SB. Hassan A, Urassa M & Lawson DW. 2019. 
"Parent-offspring conflict unlikely to explain ‘child marriage’ in northwestern Tanzania. "
Nature Human Behaviour. 3:346-353. 
Hedges S, Lawson DW, Todd J, Urassa M & Sear R. 2019.
"Sharing the load: the influence of co-resident children on the allocation of work and schooling in north-western Tanzania. "
Schaffnit SB, Urassa M & Lawson DW. 2019. 
"‘Child marriage’ in context: Exploring local attitudes towards early marriage in rural Tanzania. "
Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters. 27:1 
Lawson DW & Gibson MA. (2018)
"Understanding ‘Harmful Cultural Practices.’ "
Anthropology News 59: 3; e219-e222.
Hedges S, Sear R ,Todd J, Urassa M, & Lawson DW. 2018.
"Trade-offs in children's time allocation: Mixed support for embodied capital models of the demographic transition in Tanzania."
Current Anthropology.
Lawson DW, Gibson MA. 2018.
"Polygynous marriage and child health in Sub-Saharan Africa: What is the evidence for harm?"
Demographic Research 39: 177-208.
Gibson MA & Lawson DW. 2018.
"Population issues in development. International Encyclopedia of Anthropology."
Lawson DW, Schaffnit SB, Hassan A, Ngadaya E, Ngowi B, Mfinanga SGM, James S, Borgerhoff Mulder M. 2017. 
"Father absence but not fosterage predicts food insecurity, relative poverty and poor child health in northern Tanzania."
American Journal of Human Biology 29 e22938.
Lawson DW, Núñez-de la Mora A, Cooper GD, Prentice AM, Moore SE, Sear R. 2017. 
"Marital status and sleeping arrangements predict salivary testosterone levels in rural Gambian men."
Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology 3:221-240.
Lawson DW, James S, Ngadaya E, Ngowi B, Mfinanga SGM, Borgerhoff Mulder M. 2016. 
"Reply to Rieger and Wagner: Context matters when studying purportedly harmful cultural practices."
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
Sear R, Lawson DW, Kaplan H, Shenk M. 2016. 
"Understanding variation in human fertility: What can we learn from evolutionary demography?"
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 371, 20150144.
Hedges S, Borgerhoff Mulder M, James S, Lawson DW. 2016. 
"Sending children to school: rural livelihoods and parental investment in education in northern Tanzania."
Evolution & Human Behavior 37:142-151.
Lawson DW & Borgerhoff Mulder M. 2016. 
"The offspring quantity-quality trade-off and human fertility variation."
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 371, 20150145.