I was in the shower and as I was shampooing my hair I found my thoughts drifting toward a strange subject–the fertility of long-lived species.
Well, specifically, it was elves. High elves, the original nigh-if-not-actually-immortal haughty bastards of fantasy. They live for a long time, and typically are portrayed as having small populations. Stories with these races in the world are often set long past their heyday, and it makes sense for a long-lived population in decline to be few in number. But, what if it was because of something else, like fertility?
In humans, females are fertile for twenty-four to forty-eight hours each month, and roughly from the ages of twelve to fifty. Males are fertile from the age of twelve until they die, but the quality of the offspring can suffer as they age. Animals are usually “in heat” once or twice a year, but for up to two weeks at a time. This starts around the age of six months and lasts until they until they die. [They also have shorter pregnancy cycles than humans.]
If elves [or any other long-lived race] are portrayed as similar enough to humans, then do their females go through a menopause? If so, since they have such long lifespans, when would it occur? Around the same time as a human female? That would make it fifty years old, which is usually interpreted as still being in childhood for these types. [Sometimes it’s literal–they still have a child’s body; or figuratively where they have an adult body but a child’s mind.] Under the assumption that the average age of death for elves is say, five-hundred–making their life-span five times as long as ours–then that means they don’t reach sexual maturity until they are sixty years of age. Still applying equivalent human time constraints, that would make them young adults. [About twenty-five years-old, which seems late for puberty now, doesn’t it?]
My main question is, when do they stop being fertile? Do they have a natural end to their fertility at a set age [At age two-hundred and fifty, if we’re still following humans.] or are they fertile until they die, like animals tend to be? If they’re continuously fertile, a small population makes sense if couples could wait to procreate because they never have the option not to–barring some factor like injury or infertility. This also means the number of children in the society at any given time would be low too.
On the other hand, if they had a set end to fertility I imagine a larger population since when you have a limited time to do something, you tend to start earlier rather than later. But they could start worrying about overpopulation, or some could choose to go child-free for various reasons–personal preference, available resources, etc. If enough of them start feeling this way, then the population will decline naturally as the elders die off. [This is happening in Japan right now.]
The only thing I can conclude is that a small population would be logical in either scenario, which doesn’t give me any answers. Of course, the author can write the elves [or other long-life race] however they want and absolutely none of this matters, but sometimes I like to take a good shower thought and examine all its facets under the light. In my Atlantis: TVC series, I have races with longer life spans than humans; most of them have small populations, and I can’t get into more than that because I would be entering spoiler territory. But this exercise makes me take a deeper look into my own races and characters–which is never a bad thing. In fact, it’s caused me to re-examine several future plot points and motivations. [In a good way!]
Sometimes shower thoughts are the best thoughts.
What do you feel causes authors to depict elves [and other fantasy races] as small societies? Do you feel it’s fertility related, or due to some other reason?