University of Richmond’s Christopher von Rueden, an anthropologist and assistant professor in the Jepson School of Leadership Studies co-authored an article that explores social status and reproductive success.

“Much of what we do as humans can be described as pursuit of social status,” said von Rueden. “My research focuses on why. In my recent paper, we ask whether men’s status is linked to greater reproductive success, particularly in societies with more wealth and more formal political power.”

von Rueden and his colleague, Adrian Jaeggi, an anthropologist at Emory University, analyzed 33 non-industrial societies from around the globe, including hunter-gatherers, pastoralists and agriculturalists. Their article, “Men’s status and reproductive success in 33 non-industrial societies: Effects of subsistence, marriage system, and reproductive strategy” was recently published in the journal, “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

“We found a positive association between status and reproductive success, which is as strong for hunter-gatherers as for other subsistence types,” von Rueden explained. “That was surprising.”

“Even though hunter-gatherer societies tend to lack wealth and actively resist individuals who overtly seek power, men who are skilled, generous or signal other valued attributes can be reproductively successful,” von Rueden said. “Our results support the view that status pursuit was shaped and maintained by natural selection over hundreds of thousands of years.”

von Rueden and Jaeggi also show that the reproductive benefits of men’s status have more to do with fertility than children’s survival. von Rueden explains, “Either status is tailored more toward offspring production than offspring well-being, or offspring well-being has many more determinants that make its association with status weaker.”

The study did not examine industrial societies where access to contraception and the economics of child-rearing often weaken associations between status and reproduction.

The study also did not address women’s status hierarchy. “Men’s and women’s hierarchies are not independent, and in societies where women have more power we expect women to alter how men pursue status and how status affects men’s reproduction,” says von Rueden.

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Note: The paper highlighted in this release as well as additional scholarly research by Chris von Rueden is available for review in the UR Scholarship Repository, a digital archive of faculty scholarship managed by Boatwright Memorial Library.

Associate Professor of Leadership Studies
Status Hierarchy
Leader Emergence in Task Groups
Evolution of Cooperation and Morality
Social Gradient of Health
Small-scale Societies
Origins of Personality Differences