Hunter-gatherer males are more risk-seeking than females, even in late childhood

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Evolution and Human Behavior, ISSN: 1090-5138, Vol: 38, Issue: 5, Page: 592-603

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Coren L. Apicella; Alyssa N. Crittenden; Victoria A. Tobolsky
Elsevier BV
Agricultural and Biological Sciences; Psychology; Arts and Humanities
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Observed economic and labor disparities between the sexes may, in part, result from evolved sex differences in risk preferences. Using incentivized economic games, we report on sex differences in risk preferences in the Hadza, a population of hunter-gatherers. One game played in 2010 (n = 233) found that more Hadza males than females prefer to gamble for a chance to earn more maize rather than settle for a sure, but smaller, amount. Similarly, a second game played in 2013 (n = 102) found that male Hadza gamble a greater proportion of honey for a chance to earn more compared to female Hadza. Effect sizes are small to medium. We find weak evidence that risk-taking increases in men as their mating opportunities increase. In both games, the sex difference widens throughout childhood and is greatest among adolescents; though note that child samples are small. We explore developmental trends further using observational data on food returns in children (n = 357). Our data suggest that while the mean number of calories boys bring to camp remains stable with age, the variance in their caloric returns increases. Among girls, the variance remains stable with increased age. Both the economic games and food return data are consistent with the sexual division of labor wherein boys, beginning in late childhood, begin to target riskier foods. To the extent that the Hadza allow us to make inferences about long-standing patterns of human behavior, we suggest that sex differences in risk preferences may have been present long before agriculture and the modern work environment.