, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 457-472

Girl helpers and time allocation of nursing women among the Toba of Argentina

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Abstract

In this paper we outline the activities of young girls in a Toba community of northern Argentina and examine the effect of girl helpers on time allocation of nursing women. Activity budgets were obtained for 41 girls aged 3 to 15 using spot observations. Girls spent substantial portions of observations engaged in helping behaviors. Individual values varied with age, anthropometric characteristics, and birth order. Activity budgets of 21 nursing women were obtained through focal observation sessions. Women living in households with girls aged 7 to 15 allocated 17% less time to domestic work and 9% more time to socializing during afternoon observation sessions. For nursing women in this community, direct childcare (provided by the infant’s own mother) seemed to be a priority. Living with a girl helper did not have any measurable effect on the frequency or duration of nursing, or on the time that women spent caring for their infants. Based on these findings, hypotheses are outlined for future work on the effect of girl helpers on women’s fertility.

Research for this project was funded by the Nestlé Foundation, the Harvard Anthropology Goelet Fund, and the Harvard College Research Program. Eduardo Fernandez-Duque commented on an early draft of this paper.
Riley Bove (A.B., Harvard, 1998) is a research associate in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University with research interests in intergenerational female networks and polygyny as a social mediator of women’s health (esp. urban, African). Claudia Valeggia (Ph.D., U.C. Davis, 1996) is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University with research interests in reproductive ecology and ethnopediatry. Peter Ellison (Ph.D., Harvard, 1983) is a professor of anthropology and director of the Reproductive Ecology Laboratory at Harvard University. He is the author of On Fertile Ground: Ecology, Evolution and Human Reproduction (Harvard University Press, 2001).