Men’s status and reproductive success in 33 nonindustrial societies: Effects of subsistence, marriage system, and reproductive strategy




Social status motivates much of human behavior. However, status may have been a relatively weak target of selection for much of human evolution if ancestral foragers tended to be more egalitarian. We test the “egalitarianism hypothesis” that status has a significantly smaller effect on reproductive success (RS) in foragers compared with nonforagers. We also test between alternative male reproductive strategies, in particular whether reproductive benefits of status are due to lower offspring mortality (parental investment) or increased fertility (mating effort). We performed a phylogenetic multilevel metaanalysis of 288 statistical associations between measures of male status (physical formidability, hunting ability, material wealth, political influence) and RS (mating success, wife quality, fertility, offspring mortality, and number of surviving offspring) from 46 studies in 33 nonindustrial societies. We found a significant overall effect of status on RS (r = 0.19), though this effect was significantly lower than for nonhuman primates
(r = 0.80). There was substantial variation due to marriage system and measure of RS, in particular status associated with offspring mortality only in polygynous societies (r = −0.08), and with wife quality only in monogamous societies (r = 0.15). However, the effects of status on RS did not differ significantly by status measure or subsistence type: foraging, horticulture, pastoralism, and agriculture. These results suggest that traits that facilitate status acquisition were not subject to substantially greater selection with domestication of plants and animals, and are part of reproductive strategies that enhance fertility more than offspring well-being.

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Refer to Dr. Christopher von Rueden's website for further information.

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Copyright © 2016 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. This article first appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113:39 (2016), 10824-10829.