Grandmothering and female coalitions: a basis for matrilineal priority?

Kit Opie, Camilla Power

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


Two major opposing models have been advanced for the evolution of human life histories: the ‘grandmother’ hypothesis (O’Connell et al. 1999) and the ‘diet, intelligence, and longevity’ model (Kaplan and Robson 2002; Kaplan et al. 2000), also known as the ‘embodied capital’ theory (Kaplan et al. 2001). Both of these have different implications about possible pathways for emerging kinship systems. Basically, Kaplan and colleagues’ model is predicated on male paternal strategies, stressing importance of paternity certainty for male invest- ment, with implicit assumptions of male philopatry – males staying close to natal territories and their own relatives. By contrast, O’Connell and colleagues’ grandmother hypothesis requires a tendency or a switch to female philopatry – females staying close to their mothers and female relatives – when the strategy emerges. There are two major reasons why the grandmother strategy must evolve via mother–daughter matrilines in the first place. One is the issue of paternity uncertainty, diluting the benefits to a grandmother supporting put- ative offspring of her son; the other concerns age of first reproduction, which is generally later for males than females, implying a grandmother would need to live longer to be of help to her son. The matrilineal priority debates of the early twentieth century were superseded by assumptions of male philopatry associated with ‘man the hunter’ models by mid-century, but the recent work on the ‘grandmother’ hypothesis has rejuvenated the idea that early kinship systems originated from matrilocality and matriliny (Knight and Power 2005).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEarly Human Kinship
Subtitle of host publicationFrom Sex to Social Reproduction
EditorsNicholas Allen, Hilary Callan, Robin Dunbar, Wendy James
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781444302714
ISBN (Print)9781405179010
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2008


  • grandmothering and female coalitions


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