Human Nature

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 343–364 | Cite as

Why do good hunters have higher reproductive success?

  • Eric Alden SmithEmail author


Anecdotal evidence from many hunter-gatherer societies suggests that successful hunters experience higher prestige and greater reproductive success. Detailed quantitative data on these patterns are now available for five widely dispersed cases (Ache, Hadza, !Kung, Lamalera, and Meriam) and indicate that better hunters exhibit higher age-corrected reproductive success than other men in their social group. Leading explanations to account for this pattern are: (1) direct provisioning of hunters’ wives and offspring, (2) dyadic reciprocity, (3) indirect reciprocity, (4) costly signaling, and (5) phenotypic correlation. I examine the qualitative and quantitative evidence bearing on these explanations and conclude that although none can be definitively rejected, extensive and apparently unconditional sharing of large game somewhat weakens the first three explanations. The costly signaling explanation has support in some cases, although the exact nature of the benefits gained from mating or allying with or deferring to better hunters needs further study.

Key words

Food sharing Hunter-gatherers Reciprocity Signaling 


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Copyright information

© Aldine Transaction 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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