Social inequality is now pervasive in human societies, despite the fact that humans lived in relatively egalitarian, small-scale societies across most of our history. Prior literature highlights the importance of environmental conditions, economic defensibility, and wealth transmission for shaping early Holocene origins of social inequality. However, it remains untested whether the mechanisms that drive the evolution of inequality in recent human societies follow a similar trajectory. We conduct the first global analysis of pathways to inequality within modern human societies using structural equation modeling. Our analytical approach demonstrates that environmental conditions, resource intensification, and wealth transmission mechanisms impact various forms of social inequality via a complex web of causality. We further find that subsistence practices have a direct impact on some institutionalized forms of inequality. This work identifies drivers of social inequality in the modern world and demonstrates the application of structural equation modeling methods to investigate complex relationships between elements of human culture.
|Publication status||E-pub ahead of print - 31 Jul 2019|