Biosocial inheritance: A framework for the study of the intergenerational transmission of health disparities

Morgan K. Hoke, Thomas McDade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Proponents of global market expansion claim that economic growth brings prosperity and creates a more equitable global society, yet these efforts may result in the exacerbation of economic disparities that translates into significant disparities in health. These trends underscore the importance of research examining the social determinants of health in an increasingly unequal world. This article brings together concepts from biocultural anthropology, developmental origins of health and disease, and research examining the long-term effects of early environments on social capital to formulate the notion of biosocial inheritance. Biosocial inheritance is the process whereby social adversity in one generation is transmitted to the next through reinforcing biological and social mechanisms that impair health, exacerbating social and health disparities. Such a theoretical framework considers contemporary and historic political-economic forces that shape inequalities in human health, across generations. We examine the biosocial determinants of growth in the Andes as a case study of biosocial inheritance, developing a model that will illuminate the contemporary and historic sources of persistent poverty in low-income communities around the world. By highlighting the biosocial mechanisms underpinning the intergenerational transmission of poverty, this model allows for the formulation of interventions aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty and a reconsideration of the way we think about poverty and social mobility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-213
Number of pages27
JournalAnnals of Anthropological Practice
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014


  • Biocultural anthropology
  • Biosocial inheritance
  • Health disparities
  • Inequality
  • Intergenerational

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology


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