Pastoralism and wealth inequality: Revisiting an old question

Monique Borgerhoff Mulder*, Ila Fazzio, William Irons, Richard L. McElreath, Samuel Bowles, Adrian Bell, Tom Hertz, Leela Hazzah

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations

Abstract

Pastoralist societies are often portrayed as economically egalitarian, reflecting the volatile nature of livestock herds and the existence of multiple institutions that allow for the redistribution of wealth as a form of insurance. Motivated by an interest in the role of intergenerational transmission in structuring persistent inequality, we examine the extent of intergenerational transmission of material wealth (four measures) and embodied wealth (one measure) for four pastoral populations from different parts of the world (East Africa, West Africa, and southwest Asia). We find substantial levels of intergenerational transmission and marked economic inequality. We argue that the high correspondence between the material wealth of parents and offspring reflects the importance of the family in the transmission of wealth through bequests, positive assortment by wealth in the domains of marriage and herd management, and positive returns to scale as might occur when raising or defending large herds. We conclude that the analysis of intergenerational transmission provides new insights into the much-debated extent of egalitarianism among pastoralists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-48
Number of pages14
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Volume51
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology

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