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Publication - Professor Mhairi Gibson

    Helpful grandmothers in rural Ethiopia: A study of the effect of kin on child survival and growth


    Gibson, M & Mace, R, 2005, ‘Helpful grandmothers in rural Ethiopia: A study of the effect of kin on child survival and growth’. Evolution and Human Behavior, vol 26 (6)., pp. 469 - 482


    Kin selection and parental investment theories state that, in highly social species, such as humans, individuals can increase their inclusive fitness by extending support to their relatives. Here, we document patterns of kin support in a rural Ethiopian community, where postmarital residence practices provide differential access to relatives. Using demographic, anthropometric, and behavioral data collected from four villages we are able to (a) identify the effects of the presence of kin on child mortality and growth patterns and (b) provide detailed information on the role of relatives within the household.

    Mortality analyses indicate that grandmothers had a positive effect on child survival. Anthropometric data reveal that maternal grandmothers had a particularly beneficial effect on child height, but paternal grandmothers less so. Time allocation data suggest that grandmothers continued to visit their daughters' households, irrespective of postmarital residence, where they relieved their daughters of heavy domestic tasks rather than helping with direct grandchild care. Matrilocal postmarital residence was associated with improved child survival, although children in matrilocal households were actually smaller. This may be due to wealth effects, increased competition between siblings, or higher survival of smaller infants in matrilocal households.

    Full details in the University publications repository