Human Nature

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 119–161 | Cite as

Brothers and sisters

How sibling interactions affect optimal parental allocations


Data from the Kipsigis of Kenya are used to test two models for how parents invest in offspring, the Trivers-Willard and local resource competition/enhancement hypotheses. Investment is measured as age-specific survival, educational success, marital arrangements, and some components of property inheritance, permitting an evaluation of how biases persist or alter over the period of dependence. Changes through time in such biases are also examined. Despite stronger effects of wealth on the reproductive success of men than women, the survival of sons and daughters is not related to parental wealth. However, a Trivers-Willard effect characterizes educational investment: poor families show a greater concern for daughters’ (vis-à-vis sons’) schooling than do rich families, a trend that has increased over time. In regard to models of local resource competition and enhancement, men’s reproductive success decreases with number of brothers and increases with number of sisters; this pattern of competition with same-sex sibs and cooperation with opposite-sex sibs is not found among women. As predicted from these observations, parents show reduced investment in sons with a large number of brothers, and increased investment in sons with a large number of sisters. By contrast, investment in daughters is entirely unaffected by number of sisters and is influenced only in subtle ways by number of brothers. Levels of investment in relation to sibship size (irrespective of siblings’ sex) are highest for younger children of large sib sets.

Discussion of the results in relation to those from other studies leads to three conclusions. First, predictive models for how investment biases vary across societies must consider a broad range of socioecological factors constraining parental options and payoffs. Second, the timing of investment biases within societies will be affected by the value of children and the costs of parental investment. Third, measures of investment appropriate for between-sex and between-class comparisons need careful attention. Each of these issues is brought to bear on the question of why, in contrast to so many other parts of the world, sex preferences are so muted in Africa.

Key words

Africa Education Kenya Marriage Mortality Parental investment Sex biases 


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© Walter de Gruyter, Inc 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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