Alloparenting: Evolutionary origins and contemporary significance of cooperative child-rearing as a key feature of human reproduction

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Book Section

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Publication Title

The Routledge Handbook of Anthropology and Reproduction



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Maternal investment is critical to an infant’s health and well-being, and mothers are often the primary caregivers during infancy, particularly in small-scale societies around the world, yet human mothers are unusual in that they routinely rely on others to help them raise their young (Hrdy 1999; Konner 2018). The presence and support of these helpers, often termed allomothers, is a key characteristic of human reproduction. Here, for ease of understanding across domains and in acknowledgment of the important role that extraparental cooperative care plays for our species, we will be using the term alloparent1 throughout much of our description, highlighting when we are discussing extramaternal or extraparental care. This human reproductive strategy has also been referred to as cooperative breeding (Hrdy 2011), biocultural reproduction (Bogin et al. 2014, 2015), and cooperative childcare (Burkart et al. 2017). The definitions and operationalizations of these terms have shifted over time (Burkart et al. 2017; Hrdy 2009), particularly depending on the taxonomic unit of analysis (birds versus humans, for example). Our aim is not to discuss the different contexts in which cooperative care is seen across diverse animal lineages, rather, we focus our discussion on general characteristics of the human reproductive strategy of cooperative and flexible parenting that includes alloparents who help to raise young.

Controlled Subject

Human reproduction


Maternal, Child Health and Neonatal Nursing

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