Human Nature

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 294–309 | Cite as

Kinship, Family, and Gender Effects in the Ultimatum Game

  • Shane J. Macfarlan
  • Robert J. QuinlanEmail author


Kinship and reciprocity are two main predictors of altruism. The ultimatum game has been used to study altruism in many small-scale societies. We used the ultimatum game to examine effects of individuals’ family and kin relations on altruistic behavior in a kin-based horticultural community in rural Dominica. Results show sex-specific effects of kin on ultimatum game play. Average coefficient of relatedness to the village was negatively associated with women’s ultimatum game proposals and had little effect on men’s proposals. Number of brothers in the village was positively associated with men’s ultimatum game proposals and negatively associated with women’s proposals. Similarly, presence of father in the village was associated with higher proposals by men and lower proposals by women. We interpret the effect of brothers on men’s proposals as a consequence of local competition among brothers. We speculate that daughter-biased parental care in this community creates a sense of entitlement among women with brothers, which may explain the inverse relation between number of brothers and women’s ultimatum game proposals. The pattern of results may be consistent with how matrifocality affects cultural models of fairness differently along gender and family lines.


Game theory Ultimatum game Kinship Reciprocity Altruism Dominica 



We thank Heather Bonander and Celeste Henrickson for their help administering the ultimatum game. Thanks to John Fountaine of the Dominica Ministry of Community Development, Gender Affairs and Information for much local government assistance. Thanks to Donna Leonetti for generous help developing the manuscript. Special thanks to the people of Bwa Mawego for their good cheer and encouragement.


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© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyWashington State UniversityPullmanUSA

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