Children are important too: juvenile playgroups and maternal childcare in a foraging population, the Agta

Abigail E Page, Emily H Emmot, Mark Dyble, Dan Smith, Nikhil Chaudhary, Sylvain Viguier, Andrea B Migliano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
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Non-maternal carers (allomothers) are hypothesized to lighten the mother's workload, allowing for the specialized human life history including relatively short interbirth intervals and multiple dependent offspring. Here, using in-depth observational data on childcare provided to 78 Agta children (a foraging population in the northern Philippines; aged 0–6 years), we explore whether allomaternal childcare substitutes and decreases maternal childcare. We found that allomother caregiving was associated with reduced maternal childcare, but the substitutive effect varied depending on the source and type of care. Children-only playgroups consistently predicted a decrease in maternal childcare. While grandmothers were rarely available, their presence was negatively associated with maternal presence and childcare, and grandmothers performed similar childcare activities to mothers. These results underscore the importance of allomothering in reducing maternal childcare in the Agta. Our findings suggest that flexibility in childcare sources, including children-only playgroups, may have been the key to human life-history evolution. Overall, our results reinforce the necessity of a broad conceptualization of social support in human childcare.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20200026
Pages (from-to)20200026
Number of pages1
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1827
Early online date3 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Ethics. This research was approved by UCL Ethics Committee (UCL Ethics code 3086/003) and carried out with permission from local government and Agta leaders. Informed consent was obtained from all participants after group and individual consultation, with an explanation of the research objectives in the indigenous language. A small compensation (usually a thermal bottle or cooking utensils) was given to each household. Data accessibility. The datasets and analysis script supporting this article have been uploaded as part of the supplementary material. As the Agta are a small and vulnerable population and the data of a personal nature every effort has been made to anonymize this data and all personal information has been removed. Authors’ contributions. A.E.P. conceptualized this study, designed the field methodology and conducted focal follows with S.V. A.E.P. conducted data processing and analysis, while the analysis process was continually reviewed by E.H.E., M.D. and D.S. A.E.P. drafted and refined the manuscript which was critically revised with by E.H.E. M.D., D.S., N.C., S.V. and A.B.M. helped draft the manuscript. A.B.M. oversaw and ran the project. Competing interests. We declare we have no competing interests. Funding. A.E.P. received funding from the MRC and DFID (grant no. MR/P014216/1). A.B.M. received funding from the Leverhulme Trust (grant no. RP2011-R 045). Acknowledgements. The authors would like to acknowledge all the Agta families who participated in this study and whose goodwill and patience made the study possible. We would also like to thank the Evolutionary Demography laboratory for comments on earlier drafts.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s).


  • childcare
  • grandmothers
  • playgroups
  • support
  • allomothering
  • hunter-gatherers


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