Human Nature

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 157–182 | Cite as

Urban begging and ethnic nepotism in Russia

An ethological pilot study
  • M. Butovskaya
  • F. SalterEmail author
  • I. Diakonov
  • A. Smirnov


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.

Key words

Age Altruism Begging Behavioral strategies Ethnic nepotism Reciprocity Releasers Russia Sex 


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Copyright information

© Walter de Gruyter, Inc 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Butovskaya
    • 2
  • F. Salter
    • 1
    Email author
  • I. Diakonov
    • 2
  • A. Smirnov
    • 2
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Behavioral PhysiologyGermany
  2. 2.Laboratory of Evolutionary AnthropologyRussian State University for the HumanitiesUSSR

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