Fitness in stratified societies
Review articleOpen access

AbstractWhen wealth or social status can be transmitted from parents to offspring and when fitness depends on wealth or social status, evolutionary consequences of individual transmission strategies can be described by a parameter, called long-term fitness by Rogers (1990), which is the expected relative contribution of an individual to the gene pool in the long-term future. We show how to measure and use this parameter in two models of general interest in sociobiology. First, we construct a system with social classes and hypergynous marriage. Our treatment includes a method for computing the fitnesses of the two sexes separately. As expected, upper-class males have the highest long-term fitness in this kind of social structure, followed by lower-class females, then lower-class males and upper-class females. Upper-class preference for sons would be favored by selection in this system, but not female unwillingness to marry down—in this sense such systems do not conform to a Darwinian model. We then study a system with one sex and three social classes, the poorest of which has very low single generation fitness. In this system, the class with the highest single generation fitness does not have the highest long-term fitness. We suggest that this system is a useful model for understanding the changes in reproductive behavior that occured during the demographic transition in Europe. We suggest that the absence of a destitute lower class in Africa may help explain the failure, so far, for signs of demographic transition to appear in Africa.

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