Addressing a common myth

Ajay addresses a common myth about hunter gather life, that the men don’t contribute much:

First the claim from an article on Crooked Timber (Dear Guys Who Would Like to Make Stuff up About Sexual Relations a priori on the Basis of, Like, Spiders or Something by BELLE WARING)

Generally, the gathering (mostly done by women) provides 80% of the average adults’ calories and the hunting (mostly done by men) 20%.

Ajay’s  response

“This varies depending on what latitude you’re at. Go a bit further north and pretty much all the calories come from hunting, which is done by the men. (Not much to gather in Greenland.)

…Of course, it’s more complicated than that, because if you look at “time spent in hunting-related program activities” rather than just “time actually spent hunting”, the split’s more even. You need a lot of kit to survive spending eight hours at a time in the buckle, and the kit’s mainly made and maintained by the women while the men are out working on their frostbite.

But I don’t think you can assume that the 80%/20% production split which is observed in modern hunter gatherers living on some of the least fertile and hottest bits of the planet was also followed by hunter gatherers living in every other environment in the world.”

This is an important point, we have to be very careful making inferences about the pre-agricultural life and culture and man from the life and culture of people who live in pastoral cultures today. The pastoral cultures have survived in some of the most hostile places on earth. If farming could have survived their the superior numbers that farming supports would likely have driven them out, and that also means that their was likely less biomass to support the sort of large prey-animals that would make for a big caloric contribution of the hunters.

It is also important to remember that meat is delicious and highly prized, so we should not confuse the caloric contribution with the value to their contribution. Calories alone are not enough, and it is routine among the poor to tolerate some hunger for  entertainment, cultural, and religious objectives.