Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Suffering of the poor may have helped societies with class structures spread across globe

Date:
September 30, 2011
Source:
Stanford University
Summary:
Arguably the worst feature of societies with class structures -- the disproportionate suffering of the poor -- may have been the driving force behind the spread of those stratified societies across the globe at the expense of more egalitarian societies. During hard times, a society in which the bulk of the suffering is borne by the poor can survive and expand into new territory more readily than can egalitarian societies.

Why do most cultures have a class structure -- rich, poor and sometimes middle -- instead of being egalitarian, with resources shared equally by everyone?

Related Articles


According to Stanford University researchers, it is the very inequities of the class structure that appear to have been behind the spread of those societies and the displacement of more egalitarian cultures during the early era of human civilization.

The researchers used a computer simulation to compare demographic stability and rates of migration for both egalitarian and unequal societies. They found that class structure provided unequal access to resources, thereby contributing a destabilizing effect on the population, and driving migration and the expansion of stratified societies.

"This is the first study to demonstrate a specific mechanism by which stratified societies may have taken over most of the world," said Marcus Feldman, an evolutionary biologist at Stanford. He is a co-author of a research paper on the topic, published online this week by the Public Library of Science in the journal PLoS ONE.

Feldman and his colleagues determined that when resources were consistently scarce, egalitarian societies -- which shared the deprivation equally throughout the population -- remained more stable than stratified societies. In stratified societies, the destabilizing effect of unequal sharing of scarce resources gave those societies more incentive to migrate in search of added resources.

In environments where the availability of resources fluctuated from year to year, stratified societies were better able to survive the temporary shortages because the bulk of the deprivation was absorbed by the lower classes, leaving the ruling class -- and the overall social structure -- intact. That stability enabled them to expand more readily than egalitarian societies, which weren't able to adapt to changing conditions as quickly.

Many possible causes for the development of socioeconomic inequality have been proposed by scientists, such as a need for hierarchical control over crop irrigation systems, or the compounding of small differences in individual wealth over time through inheritance.

"The fact that unequal societies today vastly outnumber egalitarian societies may not be due to the replacement of the ethic of equality by a more selfish ethic, as originally thought by many researchers," said cultural evolution specialist Deborah Rogers, lead author of the study. "Instead, it appears that the stratified societies simply spread and took over, crowding out the egalitarian populations." The study is a product of her PhD thesis project at Stanford. Feldman was Rogers' adviser.

"This is not just an academic exercise," Rogers said. "Inequalities in socioeconomic status are increasing sharply around the world. Understanding the causes and consequences of inequality and how to reduce it is one of the central challenges of our time."

Feldman, a professor of biology, is the director of the Morrison Institute for Population and Resource Studies at Stanford. Rogers is now a researcher at the United Nations University in Bonn, Germany. Omkar Deshpande, a former computer science PhD student at Stanford, also contributed to the research and is a co-author of the PLoS ONE paper.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Deborah S. Rogers, Omkar Deshpande, Marcus W. Feldman. The Spread of Inequality. PLoS ONE, 2011; 6 (9): e24683 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024683

Cite This Page:

Stanford University. "Suffering of the poor may have helped societies with class structures spread across globe." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 September 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110928152058.htm>.
Stanford University. (2011, September 30). Suffering of the poor may have helped societies with class structures spread across globe. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110928152058.htm
Stanford University. "Suffering of the poor may have helped societies with class structures spread across globe." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110928152058.htm (accessed December 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Science & Society News

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

After Sony Hack, What's Next?

After Sony Hack, What's Next?

Reuters - US Online Video (Dec. 19, 2014) The hacking attack on Sony Pictures has U.S. government officials weighing their response to the cyber-attack. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sierra Leone Bikers Spread the Message to Fight Ebola

Sierra Leone Bikers Spread the Message to Fight Ebola

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) More than 100 motorcyclists hit the road to spread awareness messages about Ebola. Nearly 7,000 people have now died from the virus, almost all of them in west Africa, according to the World Health Organization. Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spokesman: 'NORAD Ready to Track Santa'

Spokesman: 'NORAD Ready to Track Santa'

AP (Dec. 19, 2014) Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said that NORAD is ready to track Santa Claus as he delivers gifts next week. Speaking tongue-in-cheek, he said if Santa drops anything off his sleigh, "we've got destroyers out there to pick them up." (Dec. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Science & Society

Business & Industry

Education & Learning

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