What is it about?

Foraging is a type of production that goes back to our earliest ancestors and continues today in the search for wild, edible plants, as well as hunting and fishing. It takes time to gain complex foraging skills. Until someone can feed themselves, they depend on others. When one gets good, they feed others in their community. Anthropological studies of human foraging in non-Western societies demonstrate that our ability to be productive as foragers extends into advanced ages. But just when do hunters begin to produce more than they consume, and how long do people remain productive hunters cross-culturally? This open-access paper develops formal models of hunters' increases and declines in production skill from approximately 23,000 hunting records generated by more than 1,800 individuals at 40 locations around the globe.

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Why is it important?

This paper demonstrates the important economic role of middle age and elderly people across 40 non-Western societies. While there is substantial variation both among individuals and across sites in the exact timing, the model demonstrates a consistent pattern in life history. Within study sites, the paper finds that variation among individuals depends more on heterogeneity in rates of decline than in rates of increase in productivity.


The paper also has implications for understanding the benefits of feeling productive in advanced age, as well as the value of being able to train and retrain with new skills across the lifespan.

Professor John P Ziker
Boise State University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The life history of human foraging: Cross-cultural and individual variation, Science Advances, June 2020, American Association for the Advancement of Science,
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax9070.
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