, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 157-182

Urban begging and ethnic nepotism in Russia

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Ethnic nepotism theory predicts that even in times of communal peace altruism is more pronounced within than between ethnic groups. The present study tested the hypothesis that altruism in the form of alms giving would be greater within than between ethnic groups, and greater between more closely related groups than between more distant groups. The three groups chosen for study were ethnic Russians, Moldavians, and Gypsies. Russians are genetically closer to Moldavians than to Gypsies. Observations were made of 128 ethnic Russian, 25 Moldavian, and 25 Gypsy beggars receiving gifts from ethnic Russians in Moscow trains. The Gypsies were mainly girls, contrary to the Russian sample. Multivariate analysis identified three main strategies: active, personified, and appeasing-undirected. Russian strategies were most variable. Gypsies presented strong charity releasers: 84% were children who played music and sang and showed appeasing-undirected behavior. The few adults were highly submissive or friendly. Nevertheless, their success was limited compared with that of ethnic Russians despite the latter’s demanding behavior and their being mostly mature or elderly persons. Moldavians received an intermediate amount of charity. The hypothesis was supported.

This project was preceded by a descriptive hypothesis-generating phase during which Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt provided generous access to the Max Planck Society’s Ethological Film Archive in Andechs, Germany.
Marina Butovskaya is Professor of Physical Anthropology and head of the Laboratory of Evolutionary Anthropology, Division of Cultural Anthropology, Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow, and Leading Research Scientist of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow. She received her Ph.D. and Doctor of Science in physical anthropology from the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Moscow. Research interests include primate and human ethology of aggression and postconflict interaction and the evolution of cooperation and altruism.
Frank Salter is a research associate at the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology, Andechs, Germany. He received his Ph.D in biosocial science from the School of Humanities, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia. Research interests include the ethology of command hierarchies and evolutionary perspectives on ethnic altruism and competition.
I. Diakonov and A. Smirnov are undergraduates in the Division of Social Anthropology, Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow.