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Why Do Men Hunt?: A Reevaluation of “Man the Hunter” and the Sexual Division of Labor

Michael Gurven and Kim Hill
Current Anthropology
Vol. 50, No. 1 (February 2009), pp. 51-74
DOI: 10.1086/595620
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/595620
Page Count: 24
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Why Do Men Hunt?
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Abstract

The role of men in hunter‐gatherer societies has been subject to vigorous debate over the past 15 years. The proposal that men hunt wild game as a form of status signaling or “showing off” to provide reproductive benefits to the hunter challenges the traditional view that men hunt to provision their families. Two broad assumptions underlie the signaling view: (1) hunting is a poor means of obtaining food, and (2) hunted game is a public good shared widely with others and without expectation of future reciprocation. If hunters lack the ability to direct food shares and obtain subsequent benefits contingent on redistribution, then the ubiquitous observations of male hunting and universal pair‐bonding cannot be explained from a perspective that emphasizes kin provisioning and a division of labor. Here we show that there is little empirical support for the view that men hunt for signaling benefits alone. The ethnographic record depicts a more complex relationship between food sharing patterns, subsistence strategies, mating, and the sexual division of labor. We present a framework incorporating trade‐offs between mating and subsistence strategies in an economic bargaining context that contributes to understanding men’s and women’s roles in hunter‐gatherer societies.

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