Signaling by consumption in a native Amazonian society

Ricardo Godoy*, Victoria Reyes-García, Tomás Huanca, William R. Leonard, Thomas McDade, Susan Tanner, Vincent Vadez, Craig Seyfried

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


People signal status by producing, distributing, or consuming goods. Behavioral ecologists working with foragers stress signaling by production (e.g., supply of wildlife), whereas economists working in industrial economies stress signaling by individual consumption or expenditures. As foraging economies experience economic transformations, one expects greater reliance on individual consumption compared with production to signal status. We test two hypotheses: if people signal by individual consumption, they will allocate a higher share of their monetary expenditures to luxuries or to visible durable goods (Hypothesis 1) and the propensity to signal by individual consumption will be more salient among people closer to market towns (Hypothesis 2). To test the hypotheses, we draw on data from a native Amazonian society of foragers and slash-and-burn farmers in Bolivia (Tsimane') undergoing increasing exposure to the market economy. The sample included 161 women and 257 men 16+ years of age in 13 villages. The dependent variable was the share of total monetary expenditures allocated to different types of durable goods (e.g., clothing, luxuries, highly visible and less visible goods) during the previous year. Separate OLS regressions were used for women and men. We found support for Hypothesis 1. Higher levels of total monetary expenditures bore a positive association with the share of expenditures allocated to luxury goods and a negative association with expenditures allocated to less visible durable goods. Only among women did we find a positive association between total expenditures and the share of expenditures allocated to highly visible goods. We found no support for Hypothesis 2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)124-134
Number of pages11
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2007


  • Bolivia
  • Consumer expenditure
  • Signaling
  • Status
  • Tsimane'

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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