You are here: Home

Our Team

Mary Shenk

Mary Shenk
CONTACT
The Pennsylvania State University 318 Carpenter Building University Park, PA 16802 (814) 863-1045

Mary Shenk

Biography:

Penn State University
Associate Professor of Anthropology, Demography, 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.

FIELDWORK

My fieldwork focuses on South Asia, particularly Bangladesh and India, but I am also interested in cross-cultural work. I employ both quantitative and qualitative methods of research, and believe that firsthand fieldwork is essential to a deep understanding of social phenomena as well as to ensure that analyses are appropriately designed and findings are understood in socioecological context.

David Nolin, Ph.D.

David Nolin, Ph.D.

Biography:

Penn State University
Postdoctoral Scholar: Shenk Lab, Department of Anthropology
Faculty Affiliate: Population Research Institute, Center 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.

MY RESEARCH FOCUSES ON THREE TOPICS

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.

Lisa S. McAllister, Ph.D.

Lisa S. McAllister, Ph.D.

Biography:

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.

Ryan O. Begley, Ph.D.

Ryan O. Begley, Ph.D.

Biography:

Postdoctoral Scholar: Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University

I am an anthropologist trained in evolutionary approaches to cultural and social behavior across our species. As a student, I conducted ethnological research focused on the significance of storytelling in human evolution and its transformation in the context of colonialism and other interethnic scenarios. My attention has since turned to ethnographic research and filmmaking. I have conducted fieldwork in rural Bangladesh and am now making a film on socioeconomic change in the region.

Jane Lankes, M.A.

Jane Lankes, M.A.

Biography:

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.

Saman Naz, MSPH

Saman Naz, MSPH

Biography:

Doctoral Candidate: Department of Health Policy and Administration, Pennsylvania State University


I am a dual degree Demography and Health Policy PhD candidate at Penn State University. I have worked in the social development sector in Pakistan for over nine years, where I played a leading role in premier research and advocacy organizations. My current research is focused around themes within the broader area of global population health. I am particularly interested in understanding the impact of fertility levels on child health outcomes in low and middle income countries.

CURRENT WORK

1

Studying reasons and consequences of high consanguinity rates in Pakistan

2

Gender differences in parental investment for adolescents

3

Studying the impact of contraception on birth spacing in low and middle income countries

4

Association between religion and fertility in South Asia

5

Studying the factors that impact early childhood malnutrition and how malnutrition effects children’s anthropometric and cognitive outcomes

Robert Lynch, Ph.D.

Robert Lynch, Ph.D.

Biography:

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


I am a bio-cultural anthropologist, specializing in how biology, the environment and culture come together to shape human behavior and life history outcomes. I received my PhD at Rutgers advised by Robert Trivers doing research in Iceland on the effects of parental investment on life history outcomes such as reproduction and lifespan. My current research with the Shenk Research Group at Penn State is centered around seeking to understand how religion increases cooperation which can lead to higher fertility and greater social mobility. Previous research with Virpi Lummaa on the Human Life History Project in Finland sough to understand the impact of immigration on life history traits, while my time at the University of Missouri was spent analyzing Napoleon Chagnon’s extraordinary database of previously uncontacted Yanomamo Indians from the Amazon rainforest.  

MY RESEARCH INYERESTS FOCUS ON THREE QUESTIONS

1

How do religious beliefs and practices impact parental social networks and thereby affect the wealth and health of their children when they reach adulthood?

2

Which conditions at birth (e.g. parent’s education, wealth, genes, neighborhood, race, gender) best predict socioeconomic, lifespan and fertility outcomes in adulthood?

3

What is the evolutionary purpose of laughter and humor?

Susan Schaffnit, Ph.D.

Susan Schaffnit, Ph.D.

Biography:

Postdoctoral Scholar: Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University


I am a social scientist whose research pulls on methods and theory from evolutionary anthropology, family demography, and population health science to critically engage with topics relevant to global health and development. At the base of all of my work is a desire to understand variation human health, family structures, and life transitions – into marriage, parenthood and adulthood. Using both quantitative and qualitative research tools, I have explored these topics in isolation and in relation to one another. 

In the Shenk Research Group I will be working with an international team to explore the evolutionary dynamics of religion, family size, and child success.

For more information, please see my website