The ecology of wealth inequality in animal societies

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Eli Strauss, Daizaburo Shizuka


Individuals vary in their access to resources, social connections, and phenotypic traits, and a central goal of evolutionary biology is to understand how this variation arises and influences fitness. Parallel research on humans has focused on the causes and consequences of variation in material possessions, opportunity, and health. Central to both fields of study is that unequal distribution of wealth is an important component of social structure that drives variation in relevant outcomes. Here we advance a research framework and agenda for studying wealth inequality within an ecological and evolutionary context. This ecology of inequality approach presents the opportunity to reintegrate key evolutionary concepts as different dimensions of the link between wealth and fitness by: (1) developing measures of wealth and inequality as taxonomically broad features of societies, (2) considering how feedback loops link inequality to individual and societal outcomes, (3) exploring the ecological and evolutionary underpinnings of what makes some societies more unequal than others, and (4) studying the long-term dynamics of inequality as a central component of social evolution. We hope that this framework will facilitate a cohesive understanding of inequality as a widespread biological phenomenon and clarify the role of social systems as central to evolutionary biology.



Behavior and Ethology, Biology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Evolution, Integrative Biology, Life Sciences


intergenerational wealth transmission, reproductive skew, social mobility, social stratification, status-seeking behaviour, wealth inequality


Published: 2021-07-14 21:40

Last Updated: 2022-03-14 13:31

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