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Curr Anthropol. 2010 Feb;51(1):19-34. doi: 10.1086/648530.

Wealth transmission and inequality among hunter-gatherers.

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  • 1Dept. of Anthropology, University of Washington, Box 353100, Seattle, WA 98195-3100, USA.


We report quantitative estimates of intergenerational transmission and population-wide inequality for wealth measures in a set of hunter-gatherer populations. Wealth is defined broadly as factors that contribute to individual or household well-being, ranging from embodied forms such as weight and hunting success to material forms such household goods, as well as relational wealth in exchange partners. Intergenerational wealth transmission is low to moderate in these populations, but is still expected to have measurable influence on an individual's life chances. Wealth inequality (measured with Gini coefficients) is moderate for most wealth types, matching what qualitative ethnographic research has generally indicated (if not the stereotype of hunter-gatherers as extreme egalitarians). We discuss some plausible mechanisms for these patterns, and suggest ways in which future research could resolve questions about the role of wealth in hunter-gatherer social and economic life.

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