Longevity in Hunter-Gatherers: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

Michael D. Gurven, University of California, Santa Barbara
Hillard S. Kaplan, University of New Mexico

This paper examines mortality profiles obtained from ten hunter-gatherer societies from around the world. We compare patterns of survivorship, modal ages of adult death, and causes of death to argue that post-reproductive longevity is a robust feature of hunter-gatherers, and hence of the life-cycle of Homo sapiens. It is not only a recent phenomenon caused by improvements in sanitation, public health and medical advances. We also attempt to reconcile these results obtained from modern hunter-gatherers with the often conflicting results obtained from paleodemographic studies which attest to a more “nasty, brutish and short” lifespan. Finally, we integrate information on fertility, age-specific dependency and resource production to help explain the adaptive utility of longevity in humans.

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Presented in Session 53: Biology and Demography