My research examines the co-evolution of human social structure, life history, economics, and health. This work combines ethnographic research, cross-cultural analysis, and theoretical and computational modeling. I conduct fieldwork with Tsimane’ forager-farmers in Bolivian Amazonia, and with Tyvan nomadic pastoralists in southern Siberia.
My work has two principal goals. The first goal is to explain the origin of the core traits that define our species, such as extraordinary lifespan, heavy reliance on learning, intensive parental and grandparental investment, and extensive altruism and cooperation. The second goal is to explain variation in behavior, health, and demography across individuals and across human societies. Why, for example, do some people have few children, and others have many? Why is polygyny common in some parts of the world, but absent in others?
some groups share food widely, while others do not? Why do some conditions foster the emergence of social hierarchies, while other conditions promote egalitarianism?
Primary areas of active research include:
- the emergence of leadership, hierarchy, and inequality,
- the endogenous formation of social networks,
- dynamics of cooperation and collective action,
- intergenerational transfers and the origins of human family structure,
- mating, parental investment, and the sexual division of labor and
- determinants of family size before and after the demographic transition to low fertility.
My approach to this diversity of topics is anchored by the core unifying themes of energetics and metabolism, natural selection, and strategic adaptation to local socioecological context.