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Understanding the nature of wealth and its effects on human fitness

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Borgerhoff Mulder, M., & Beheim, B. A. (2011). Understanding the nature of wealth and its effects on human fitness. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 366(1563), 344-356. doi:10.1098/rstb.2010.0231.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002D-FF0A-4
Studying fitness consequences of variable behavioural, physiological and cognitive traits in contemporary populations constitutes the specific contribution of human behavioural ecology to the study of human diversity. Yet, despite 30 years of evolutionary anthropological interest in the determinants of fitness, there exist few principled investigations of the diverse sources of wealth that might reveal selective forces during recent human history. To develop a more holistic understanding of how selection shapes human phenotypic traits, be these transmitted by genetic or cultural means, we expand the conventional focus on associations between socioeconomic status and fitness to three distinct types of wealth—embodied, material and relational. Using a model selection approach to the study of women's success in raising offspring in an African horticultural population (the Tanzanian Pimbwe), we find that the top performing models consistently include relational and material wealth, with embodied wealth as a less reliable predictor. Specifically, child mortality risk is increased with few household assets, parent nonresidency, child legitimacy, and one or more parents having been accused of witchcraft. The use of multiple models to test various hypotheses greatly facilitates systematic comparative analyses of human behavioural diversity in wealth accrual and investment across different kinds of societies.