Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Inequality, 'Silver Spoon' Effect Found In Ancient Societies

Date:
October 30, 2009
Source:
University of California - Davis
Summary:
The so-called "silver spoon" effect -- in which wealth is passed down from one generation to another -- is well established in some of the world's most ancient economies, according to anthropologists.

Herdsman and flock of sheep. Research on small scale societies, ranging from egalitarian hunter gatherers to hierarchical farmers and herders in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, concludes that the degree of wealth inequality in a society is based on inheritance. The passing on of material things--such as farms, herds and other real property, or even knowledge, skills and other valuable resources--plays a large role in whether the next generation will accumulate or maintain high wealth status.
Credit: iStockphoto

The so-called "silver spoon" effect -- in which wealth is passed down from one generation to another -- is well established in some of the world's most ancient economies, according to an international study coordinated by a UC Davis anthropologist.

The study, to be reported in the Oct. 30 issue of Science, expands economists' conventional focus on material riches, and looks at various kinds of wealth, such as hunting success, food sharing partners, and kinship networks.

The team found that some kinds of wealth, like material possessions, are much more easily passed on than social networks or foraging abilities. Societies where material wealth is most valued are therefore the most unequal, said Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, the UC Davis anthropology professor who coordinated the study with economist Samuel Bowles of the Santa Fe Institute.

The researchers also showed that levels of inequality are influenced both by the types of wealth important to a society and the governing rules and regulations. Hunter-gatherers rely on their wits, social connections and strength to make a living. In these economies, wealth inheritance is modest because wits and social connections can be transferred only to a certain degree. The level of economic inequality in hunter-gatherer societies is on a par with the most egalitarian modern democratic economies.

The study may offer some insight into the not-too-distant future.

"An interesting implication of this is that the Internet Age will not necessarily assure equality, despite the fact that its knowledge-based capital is quite difficult to restrict and less readily transmitted only from parents to offspring," Borgerhoff Mulder said.

"Whether the greater importance of networks and knowledge, together with the lesser importance of material wealth, will weaken the link between parental and next-generation wealth, and thus provide opportunities for a more egalitarian society, will depend on the institutions and norms prevailing in a society," she said.

For years, studies of economic inequality have been limited by a lack of data on all but contemporary, market-based societies. To broaden the scope of that knowledge, Borgerhoff Mulder, Bowles and 24 other anthropologists, economists and statisticians from more than a dozen institutions analyzed patterns of inherited wealth and economic inequality around the world.

The team included three others from UC Davis -- economics professor Gregory Clark, anthropology professor Richard McElreath and Adrian Bell, a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Group in Ecology.

They focused not on nations, but on types of societies -- hunter gatherers such as those found in Africa and South America; horticulturalists, or small, low-tech slash-and-burn farming communities typical of South America, Africa and Asia; pastoralists, the herders of East Africa and Central Asia; and land-owning farmers and peasants who use ploughs and were studied in India, pre-modern Europe and parts of Africa.

The research is part of the ongoing Persistent Inequality project of the Behavioral Sciences Program based at the Santa Fe Institute. The project has received funding from the institute's Cowan Endowment, the Russell Sage Foundation and the National Science Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Davis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of California - Davis. "Inequality, 'Silver Spoon' Effect Found In Ancient Societies." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 October 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091029141223.htm>.
University of California - Davis. (2009, October 30). Inequality, 'Silver Spoon' Effect Found In Ancient Societies. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091029141223.htm
University of California - Davis. "Inequality, 'Silver Spoon' Effect Found In Ancient Societies." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091029141223.htm (accessed April 24, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Study Says Most Crime Not Linked To Mental Illness

Study Says Most Crime Not Linked To Mental Illness

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) A new study finds most crimes committed by people with mental illness are not caused by symptoms of their illness or disorder. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Smaller Plates And Cutlery Could Make You Feel Fuller

How Smaller Plates And Cutlery Could Make You Feel Fuller

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) NBC's "Today" conducted an experiment to see if changing the size of plates and utensils affects the amount individuals eat. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Do We Get Nicer With Age?

Do We Get Nicer With Age?

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) A recent report claims personality can change over time as we age, and usually that means becoming nicer and more emotionally stable. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How to Master Motherhood With the Best Work/Life Balance

How to Master Motherhood With the Best Work/Life Balance

TheStreet (Apr. 22, 2014) In the U.S., there are more than 11 million couples trying to conceive at any given time. From helping celebrity moms like Bethanny Frankel to ordinary soon-to-be-moms, TV personality and parenting expert, Rosie Pope, gives you the inside scoop on mastering motherhood. London-born entrepreneur Pope is the creative force behind Rosie Pope Maternity and MomPrep. She explains why being an entrepreneur offers the best life balance for her and tips for all types of moms. Video provided by TheStreet
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins