Does Kin-Selection Theory Help to Explain Support Networks among Farmers in South-Central Ethiopia?

Lucie Clech*, Ashley Hazel, Mhairi A. Gibson

*Corresponding author for this work

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

2 Citations (Scopus)
28 Downloads (Pure)


Social support networks play a key role in human livelihood security, especially in vulnerable communities. Here we explore how evolutionary ideas of kin selection and intra-household resource competition can explain individual variation in daily-support network size and composition in a South-Central Ethiopian agricultural community. We consider both domestic and agricultural help across two generations with different large-wealth transfer norms that yield different contexts for sibling competition. For farmers who inherited land rights from family, first-borns were more likely to report daily support from parents and to have larger non-parental kin networks (n=176). Compared with other farmers, first-borns were also more likely to reciprocate their parents’ support, and to help non-parental kin without reciprocity. For farmers who received land rights from the government (n=150), middle-born farmers reported more non-parental kin in their support networks compared with other farmers; non-reciprocal interactions were particularly common in both directions. This suggests a diversification of adult support network to non-parental kin, possibly in response to a long-term parental investment disadvantage of being middle-born sons. In all instances (with or without land inheritance), last-born farmers were the most disadvantaged in terms of kin support. Overall, we found that non-reciprocal interactions among farmers follow predictions of kin selection, and were more common for kin versus non-kin, and for close kin versus distant kin. Direct reciprocity explained a substantial part of the support received from kin, suggesting the importance of the combined effects of kin selection and reciprocity for investment from kin.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)422-447
Number of pages26
JournalHuman Nature: An Interdisciplinary Biosocial Perspective
Early online date15 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • Birth order
  • Inequalities
  • Kin selection
  • Reciprocity
  • Social capital
  • Support network


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