Special Issue "The Behavioral Ecology of the Family"

A special issue of Social Sciences (ISSN 2076-0760). This special issue belongs to the section "Family Studies".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 April 2021) | Viewed by 27813

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A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Paula Sheppard
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 4BH, UK
Interests: reproductive decision-making; fathers; grandparents; life history flexibility; family demography
Dr. Kristin Snopkowski
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Anthropology, Boise State University, Boise, ID 83725, USA
Interests: family cooperation and conflict; reproductive decision-making; fertility transition; sexual conflict, education, mental health

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleague,

Humans are striking in their extensive and varied typology of family types, including diverse marriage, mating, and descent systems, extended and blended family units, with an array of putative and blood-related “others” that help to raise children. The variety of environments that humans inhabit, both ecologically and socio-culturally, generates different conditions within which families are formed, creating the extensive diversity of human families exhibited across the world.

We are calling for papers that showcase how different ecologies—social, environmental, and cultural—produce variation in family types, formations, and kinship systems more generally. We welcome commentary papers as well as empirical studies using quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods. We are seeking contributions from researchers working in everything from small-scale societies to large industrialized populations. Our aim is to tell a story of the human family that illustrates how diverse ecologies create the rich varieties of human social systems seen across the globe.

Please submit your proposals and any questions to special issue guest editors by 1 December 2020. Notification of acceptance will be provided by 21 December 2020. Final papers are due on 1 April 2021 for peer review.

Proposals should be one page in length and include a title, an abstract explaining its relevance to the Special Issue topic, a description of the population, and the methods used (if applicable). Also include author names and affiliations.

Dr. Paula Sheppard
Dr. Kristin Snopkowski
Guest Editors

Keywords

  • human behavioral ecology
  • kinship
  • marriage systems
  • cross-cultural variation
  • cooperation and conflict
  • family formation
  • cooperative breeding

Published Papers (13 papers)

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Research

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Article
Frail Males on the American Frontier: The Role of Environmental Harshness on Sex Ratios at Birth across a Period of Rapid Industrialization
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(9), 319; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10090319 - 24 Aug 2021
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Abstract
While sex ratios at birth (SRB) have been shown to vary within and across populations, after over a century of research, explanations have remained elusive. A variety of ecological, demographic, economic, and social variables have been evaluated, yet their association with SRB has [...] Read more.
While sex ratios at birth (SRB) have been shown to vary within and across populations, after over a century of research, explanations have remained elusive. A variety of ecological, demographic, economic, and social variables have been evaluated, yet their association with SRB has been equivocal. Here, in an attempt to shed light on this unresolved topic within the literature, we approach the question of what drives variation in SRB using detailed longitudinal data spanning the frontier-era to the early 20th century in a population from the US state of Utah. Using several measures of environmental harshness, we find that fewer boys are born during challenging times. However, these results hold only for the frontier-era and not into a period of rapid economic and infrastructure development. We argue that the mixed state of the literature may result from the impact and frequency of exogenous stressors being dampened due to industrialization. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Behavioral Ecology of the Family)
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Article
Relationships of Resource Strategies, Family Composition, and Child Growth in Two Rural Timor-Leste Communities
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(7), 273; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10070273 - 16 Jul 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1617
Abstract
Subsistence and economic activities undertaken by households in the context of transition from subsistence farming to cash economies are sometimes seen as substitutable with only minimal reference to the households themselves. We use data from in-depth interviews of 190 householders in Ossu (mountains) [...] Read more.
Subsistence and economic activities undertaken by households in the context of transition from subsistence farming to cash economies are sometimes seen as substitutable with only minimal reference to the households themselves. We use data from in-depth interviews of 190 householders in Ossu (mountains) and Natarbora (coastal plains), Timor-Leste, to query relationships of family composition, resource strategies, and their relationships to children’s growth. Principal component analyses of six household composition variables reveal “grandparent and fostered-in children”, “two generational households with numerous adults and children”, and “smaller households with few adults and fostered-out children”, explaining 72% of the variance. A similar procedure with 11 resource variables produced four components explaining 56% of resource variance. Households with grandparents have a pension income and engage in large animal husbandry, and are associated with better standardized BMI for resident children. Households with numerous members (but not grandparents) are more invested in subsistence gardening and are negatively associated with child stature. Salaried income is not associated with household composition, but children in these households are taller than their peers. Consistent differences between the two communities are partially a result of differences in socioecology, but there remain unexplained differences that may relate to cultural practices. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Behavioral Ecology of the Family)
Article
Historical Context Changes Pathways of Parental Influence on Reproduction: An Empirical Test from 20th-Century Sweden
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(7), 260; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10070260 - 08 Jul 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2289
Abstract
Several studies have found that parental absences in childhood are associated with individuals’ reproductive strategies later in life. However, these associations vary across populations and the reasons for this heterogeneity remain debated. In this paper, we examine the diversity of parental associations in [...] Read more.
Several studies have found that parental absences in childhood are associated with individuals’ reproductive strategies later in life. However, these associations vary across populations and the reasons for this heterogeneity remain debated. In this paper, we examine the diversity of parental associations in three ways. First, we test whether different kinds of parental availability in childhood and adolescence are associated with women’s and men’s ages at first birth using the intergenerational and longitudinal Uppsala Birth Cohort Study (UBCoS) dataset from Sweden. This cultural context provides a strong test of the hypothesis that parents influence life history strategies given that robust social safety nets may buffer parental absences. Second, we examine whether investments in education help explain why early parental presence is associated with delayed ages at first birth in many post-industrial societies, given that parents often support educational achievement. Third, we compare parental associations with reproductive timing across two adjacent generations in Sweden. This historical contrast allows us to control for many sources of heterogeneity while examining whether changing educational access and norms across the 20th-century change the magnitude and pathways of parental influence. We find that parental absences tend to be associated with earlier first births, and more reliably so for women. Many of these associations are partially mediated by university attendance. However, we also find important differences across cohorts. For example, the associations with paternal death become similar for sons and daughters in the more recent cohort. One possible explanation for this finding is that fathers start influencing sons and daughters more similarly. Our results illustrate that historical changes within a population can quickly shift how family affects life history. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Behavioral Ecology of the Family)
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Article
Gender Differences in Social Networks Based on Prevailing Kinship Norms in the Mosuo of China
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(7), 253; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10070253 - 02 Jul 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2389
Abstract
Although cooperative social networks are considered key to human evolution, emphasis has usually been placed on the functions of men’s cooperative networks. What do women’s networks look like? Do they differ from men’s networks and what does this suggest about evolutionarily inherited gender [...] Read more.
Although cooperative social networks are considered key to human evolution, emphasis has usually been placed on the functions of men’s cooperative networks. What do women’s networks look like? Do they differ from men’s networks and what does this suggest about evolutionarily inherited gender differences in reproductive and social strategies? In this paper, we test the ‘universal gender differences’ hypothesis positing gender-specific network structures against the ‘gender reversal’ hypothesis that posits that women’s networks look more ‘masculine’ under matriliny. Specifically, we ask whether men’s friendship networks are always larger than women’s networks and we investigate measures of centrality by gender and descent system. To do so, we use tools from social network analysis and data on men’s and women’s friendship ties in matrilineal and patrilineal Mosuo communities. In tentative support of the gender reversal hypothesis, we find that women’s friendship networks in matriliny are relatively large. Measures of centrality and generalized linear models otherwise reveal greater differences between communities than between men and women. The data and analyses we present are primarily descriptive given limitations of sample size and sampling strategy. Nonetheless, our results provide support for the flexible application of social relationships across genders and clearly challenge the predominant narrative of universal gender differences across space and time. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Behavioral Ecology of the Family)
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Article
Kin Ties and Market Integration in a Yucatec Mayan Village
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(6), 216; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10060216 - 08 Jun 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2137
Abstract
The importance of kin relationships varies with socioecological demands. Among subsistence agriculturalists, people commonly manage fluctuations in food availability by relying on family members to share resources and pool labor. However, the process of market integration may disrupt these support networks, which may [...] Read more.
The importance of kin relationships varies with socioecological demands. Among subsistence agriculturalists, people commonly manage fluctuations in food availability by relying on family members to share resources and pool labor. However, the process of market integration may disrupt these support networks, which may begin to carry costs or liabilities in novel market environments. The current study aims to address (1) how kin are distributed in household support networks (2) how kin support varies as households become more engaged in market activities, and (3) how variation in kin support is associated with income disparities within a Yucatec Maya community undergoing rapid market integration. Using long-term census data combined with social networks and detailed household economic data, we find that household support networks are primarily composed of related households. Second, households engaged predominantly in wage labor rely less on kin support than agricultural or mixed economy households. Finally, kin support is associated with lower household net income and income per capita. Understanding how kin support systems shift over the course of market integration and in the face of new opportunities for social and economic production provides a unique window into the social and economic drivers of human family formation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Behavioral Ecology of the Family)
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Article
Timing, Initiators, and Causes of Divorce in a Mayangna/Miskito Community in Nicaragua
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(6), 212; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10060212 - 06 Jun 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2281
Abstract
There exists a paucity of evolution-oriented research focusing on why relationships end, particularly in comparison to the substantial literature centered around individual preferences that define the beginning of relationships. In contrast, there is a long tradition in the fields of sociology and family [...] Read more.
There exists a paucity of evolution-oriented research focusing on why relationships end, particularly in comparison to the substantial literature centered around individual preferences that define the beginning of relationships. In contrast, there is a long tradition in the fields of sociology and family studies of exploring divorce; however, this body of research is largely limited to studies of Western populations. We address these gaps in the literature with an examination of patterns of divorce among a small-scale horticultural population in Nicaragua. We test a number of hypotheses derived from behavioral ecology perspective regarding the timing and causes of divorce. Results lend support to all but one of the hypotheses. Overall divorce rates are comparable to U.S. rates; however, they tend to occur earlier in marriages. Children appear to provide a slight buffering effect against divorce, although age in marriage does not. Gender differences in the reported causes of divorce fall along the lines that would be expected due to differences in partner preferences reported in previous research. Finally, this population also exhibits a similar peculiar pattern exhibited by Western populations, in which divorce is more costly for women, and yet women are slightly more likely to initiate divorces than husbands. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Behavioral Ecology of the Family)
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Article
Non-Parental Investment in Children and Child Outcomes after Parental Death or Divorce in a Patrilocal Society
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(6), 196; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10060196 - 27 May 2021
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 2164
Abstract
Children rely on support from parental helpers (alloparents), perhaps especially in high-needs contexts. Considerable evidence indicates that closer relatives and maternal relatives are the most likely to provide this care, as inclusive fitness theory suggests, but whether this is equally true across different [...] Read more.
Children rely on support from parental helpers (alloparents), perhaps especially in high-needs contexts. Considerable evidence indicates that closer relatives and maternal relatives are the most likely to provide this care, as inclusive fitness theory suggests, but whether this is equally true across different family types and in culturally patrilocal societies requires investigation. This structured interview study (N = 208 respondents with 323 dependent children) focuses on who helps raise children in rural Bangladesh after the father’s or mother’s death, or divorce, in comparison to families with both parents present or the father temporarily a migrant laborer. Family types differed in where and with whom children resided, who served as their primary and secondary caregivers, and who provided material support, but mother’s kin played a major role, and were the primary providers of material resources from outside the child’s household in all family types. Despite the patrilineal ideology, only one-quarter of children of divorce lived with the father or his family, and even after the death of the mother, only 59% remained with father or other paternal kin. Household income varied by family type and was a strong predictor of child height and weight. The children of deceased mothers moved between successive caregivers especially frequently, and were uniquely likely to have no schooling. The typology of Bangladeshi society as patrilocal obscures the extent to which matrilateral family support children’s well-being. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Behavioral Ecology of the Family)
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Article
Mother’s Partnership Status and Allomothering Networks in the United Kingdom and United States
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(5), 182; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10050182 - 20 May 2021
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 1740
Abstract
In high-income, low-fertility (HILF) settings, the mother’s partner is a key provider of childcare. However, it is not clear how mothers without partners draw on other sources of support to raise children. This paper reports the findings from a survey of 1532 women [...] Read more.
In high-income, low-fertility (HILF) settings, the mother’s partner is a key provider of childcare. However, it is not clear how mothers without partners draw on other sources of support to raise children. This paper reports the findings from a survey of 1532 women in the United Kingdom and the United States, in which women described who provided childcare for a focal child and how frequently they did so. We use multivariate Bayesian regression models to explore the drivers of support from partners, maternal kin, and other allomothers, as well as the potential impact of allomothering on women’s fertility. Relative to mothers who are in a stable first marriage or cohabitation, mothers who are unpartnered rely more heavily on fewer maternal kin, use more paid help, and have networks which include more non-kin helpers. Repartnered mothers received less help from their partners in the UK and less help from maternal kin in both countries, which US mothers compensated for by relying on other helpers. While repartnered mothers had higher age-adjusted fertility than women in a first partnership, allomaternal support was not clearly related to the mother’s fertility. These findings demonstrate the importance of partners but also of allomothering more broadly in HILF settings. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Behavioral Ecology of the Family)
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Article
Do Data from Large Personal Networks Support Cultural Evolutionary Ideas about Kin and Fertility?
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(5), 177; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10050177 - 18 May 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1582
Abstract
The fertility decline associated with economic development has been attributed to a host of interrelated causes including the rising costs of children with industrialization, and shifts in family structure. One hypothesis is that kin may impart more pro-natal information within their networks than [...] Read more.
The fertility decline associated with economic development has been attributed to a host of interrelated causes including the rising costs of children with industrialization, and shifts in family structure. One hypothesis is that kin may impart more pro-natal information within their networks than non-kin, and that this effect may be exacerbated in networks with high kin-density where greater social conformity would be expected. In this study, we tested these ideas using large personal networks (25 associates of the respondent) collected from a sample of Dutch women (N = 706). Kin (parents) were perceived to exert slightly more social pressure to have children than non-kin, although dense networks were not associated with greater pressure. In contrast, women reported talking to friends about having children to a greater extent than kin, although greater kin-density in the network increased the likelihood of women reporting that they could talk to kin about having children. Both consanguineal and affinal kin could be asked to help with child-care to a greater extent than friends and other non-kin. Overall, there was mixed evidence that kin were more likely to offer pro-natal information than non-kin, and better evidence to suggest that kin were considered to be a better source of child-care support. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Behavioral Ecology of the Family)
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Article
The Role of Spousal Separation on Norms Related to Gender and Sexuality among Himba Pastoralists
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(5), 174; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10050174 - 17 May 2021
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 1977
Abstract
The gender-specific labor demands of arid pastoralism often lead to spousal separation. Men typically respond in one of two ways: engage in mate guarding tactics, or loosen restrictions on female sexuality. Among Himba pastoralists in northwest Namibia, the latter strategy is dominant. Rooted [...] Read more.
The gender-specific labor demands of arid pastoralism often lead to spousal separation. Men typically respond in one of two ways: engage in mate guarding tactics, or loosen restrictions on female sexuality. Among Himba pastoralists in northwest Namibia, the latter strategy is dominant. Rooted in a history of matriliny, Himba have strong norms promoting female sexual autonomy. We propose that these conditions, combined with a stochastic resource base, have led to women utilizing a combination of formal and informal partnerships to meet their needs and the needs of their children. Aspects of Himba socioecology also increase the costs of mate guarding for men and lower the costs of extra-pair paternity, further bolstering a concurrency strategy. Using a mix of quantitative and qualitative data, we show how spousal separation, female autonomy, and concurrency are linked, and suggest that in this harsh environment having a mix of formal and informal romantic partners may be less costly and more beneficial than a system of monogamous marriage. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Behavioral Ecology of the Family)
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Review

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Review
The Human Family—Its Evolutionary Context and Diversity
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(6), 191; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10060191 - 25 May 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2183
Abstract
The family defines many aspects of our daily lives, and expresses a wide array of forms across individuals, cultures, ecologies and time. While the nuclear family is the norm today in developed economies, it is the exception in most other historic and cultural [...] Read more.
The family defines many aspects of our daily lives, and expresses a wide array of forms across individuals, cultures, ecologies and time. While the nuclear family is the norm today in developed economies, it is the exception in most other historic and cultural contexts. Yet, many aspects of how humans form the economic and reproductive groups that we recognize as families are distinct to our species. This review pursues three goals: to overview the evolutionary context in which the human family developed, to expand the conventional view of the nuclear family as the ‘traditional family’, and to provide an alternative to patrifocal explanations for family formation. To do so, first those traits that distinguish the human family are reviewed with an emphasis on the key contributions that behavioral ecology has made toward understanding dynamics within and between families, including life history, kin selection, reciprocity and conflict theoretical frameworks. An overview is then given of several seminal debates about how the family took shape, with an eye toward a more nuanced view of male parental care as the basis for family formation, and what cooperative breeding has to offer as an alternative perspective. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Behavioral Ecology of the Family)
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Review
Married Too Young? The Behavioral Ecology of ‘Child Marriage’
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(5), 161; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10050161 - 04 May 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2888
Abstract
For girls and women, marriage under 18 years is commonplace in many low-income nations today and was culturally widespread historically. Global health campaigns refer to marriage below this threshold as ‘child marriage’ and increasingly aim for its universal eradication, citing its apparent negative [...] Read more.
For girls and women, marriage under 18 years is commonplace in many low-income nations today and was culturally widespread historically. Global health campaigns refer to marriage below this threshold as ‘child marriage’ and increasingly aim for its universal eradication, citing its apparent negative wellbeing consequences. Here, we outline and evaluate four alternative hypotheses for the persistence of early marriage, despite its associations with poor wellbeing, arising from the theoretical framework of human behavioral ecology. First, early marriage may be adaptive (e.g., it maximizes reproductive success), even if detrimental to wellbeing, when life expectancy is short. Second, parent–offspring conflict may explain early marriage, with parents profiting economically at the expense of their daughter’s best interests. Third, early marriage may be explained by intergenerational conflict, whereby girls marry young to emancipate themselves from continued labor within natal households. Finally, both daughters and parents from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds favor early marriage as a ‘best of a bad job strategy’ when it represents the best option given a lack of feasible alternatives. The explanatory power of each hypothesis is context-dependent, highlighting the complex drivers of life history transitions and reinforcing the need for context-specific policies addressing the vulnerabilities of adolescence worldwide. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Behavioral Ecology of the Family)
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Other

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Perspective
Behavioral Ecology of the Family: Harnessing Theory to Better Understand Variation in Human Families
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(7), 275; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10070275 - 19 Jul 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1873
Abstract
Researchers across the social sciences have long been interested in families. How people make decisions such as who to marry, when to have a baby, how big or small a family to have, or whether to stay with a partner or stray are [...] Read more.
Researchers across the social sciences have long been interested in families. How people make decisions such as who to marry, when to have a baby, how big or small a family to have, or whether to stay with a partner or stray are questions that continue to interest economists, sociologists, demographers, and anthropologists. Human families vary across the globe; different cultures have different marriage practices, different ideas about who raises children, and even different notions of what a family is. Human behavioral ecology is a branch of anthropology that is particularly interested in cultural variation of family systems and how these differences impact upon the people that inhabit them; the children, parents, grandparents. It draws on evolutionary theory to direct research and generate testable hypotheses to uncover how different ecologies, including social contexts, can explain diversity in families. In this Special Issue on the behavioral ecology of the family, we have collated a selection of papers that showcase just how useful this framework is for understanding cultural variation in families, which we hope will convince other social scientists interested in family research to draw upon evolutionary and ecological insight in their own work. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Behavioral Ecology of the Family)
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