Our Team

Mary Shenk

Penn State University
Associate Professor of AnthropologyDemography, and Asian Studies
Faculty Associate: Population Research Institute
Faculty Affiliate: Center for Human Ecology

I am a biocultural anthropologist, human behavioral ecologist, and anthropological demographer with interests in marriage, family, kinship, parental investment, fertility, mortality, and inequality. I have conducted field research on the economics of marriage and parental investment in urban South India, the causes of rapid fertility decline in rural Bangladesh, and the effects of market integration on wealth, social networks, and health in rural Bangladesh.

Current Work

  1. Understanding the foundations of inequality and how these shift with both market integration and adaptation to local environments.
  2. Understanding the evolutionary demography of human fertility, including the psychological mechanisms that underpin human reproduction
  3. The behavioral ecology of human kinship, marriage, and family systems.

Lisa S. McAllister, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Scholar: Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University
Lecturer: University of California, Santa Barbara

I am a broadly trained anthropologist with research and teaching interests that incorporate cultural, ecological, and evolutionary perspectives. My research interests are in human growth and development, reproductive decision making, fertility and health disparities. I have conducted field research in Bolivia exploring how socioeconomic change influences reproductive preferences and outcomes, the effects of adolescent reproduction on maternal and child growth and development, and the effects of mortality exposure on reproductive timing and effort.

Current Work

  1. Understanding the psychological mechanisms that influence human reproductive timing and effort.
  2. Understanding the effects of education on reproductive preferences and outcomes when socioeconomic mobility and women’s reproductive autonomy are limited.
  3. Understanding the effects of teenage pregnancy on the mother’s and first-born child’s cognitive and somatic development, and the effects on subsequent births.

Jane Lankes, M.A.

I am a Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology and Demography with interests in motherhood, marriage, religion, health, and quantitative methods. My dissertation focuses on maternal investment and maternal well-being. Together with Dr. Shenk, I research various topics related to dowry in South Asia.

Intensive Mothering and Maternal Physical Health

Dissertation Chair(s):
Dr. Sarah Damaske

Research Interests:
Family, Gender, Health, Food, Religion, Demography, Quantitative Methods

David Nolin, Ph.D.

Penn State University
Postdoctoral Scholar: Shenk Lab, Department of Anthropology
Faculty Affiliate: Population Research InstituteCenter for Human Ecology

I am an evolutionary cultural anthropologist with methodological expertise in biostatistics, social network analysis, and demography, and a theoretical specialization in human behavioral ecology. My field research focuses on cooperative institutions in the traditional fishing and whaling village of Lamalera, Indonesia. My current work in the Shenk Research Group is a cross-cultural study of marital assortment by wealth in small-scale societies and how such assortment contributes to persistent inequality.

Current Work


  1. The evolution of human sociality and cooperation, especially as manifested in social networks of cooperative production and food sharing.
  2. The origins of and persistence of inequality in small-scale societies and its relationship to social institutions such as marriage and inheritance.
  3. The evolutionary demography of human marriage and reproduction, especially marriage delay and fertility decline.

Projects in our lab focus on three areas:


The evolution of inequality and social complexity.


The evolutionary demography of human fertility.


Kinship, marriage and family systems inevolutionary perspective.