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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1995 Aug 29;92(18):8092-9.

An evolutionary theory of the family.

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  • 1Section of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-2702, USA.


An evolutionary framework for viewing the formation, the stability, the organizational structure, and the social dynamics of biological families is developed. This framework is based upon three conceptual pillars: ecological constraints theory, inclusive fitness theory, and reproductive skew theory. I offer a set of 15 predictions pertaining to living within family groups. The logic of each is discussed, and empirical evidence from family-living vertebrates is summarized. I argue that knowledge of four basic parameters, (i) genetic relatedness, (ii) social dominance, (iii) the benefits of group living, and (iv) the probable success of independent reproduction, can explain many aspects of family life in birds and mammals. I suggest that this evolutionary perspective will provide insights into understanding human family systems as well.

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