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Neither environmental unpredictability nor harshness predict reliance on alloparental care among families in Cebu, Philippines

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 January 2022

Stacy Rosenbaum*
Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
Christopher W. Kuzawa
Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
Thomas W. McDade
Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
Sonny Agustin Bechayda
University of San Carlos Office of Population Studies Foundation, Inc., Cebu City, Philippines Department of Anthropology, Sociology, and History, University of San Carlos, Cebu City, Philippines
Lee T. Gettler
Department of Anthropology, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, USA The Eck Institute for Global Health, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, USA
Corresponding author: Stacy Rosenbaum, email:


Alloparental caregiving is key to humans’ highly flexible reproductive strategies. Across species and across societies, alloparental care is more common in harsh and/or unpredictable environments (HUEs). Currently, however, it is unclear whether HUEs predict intra-population variation in alloparental care, or whether early life HUEs might predict later alloparental care use in adulthood, consistent with adaptive developmental plasticity. We test whether harshness measures (socioeconomic status (SES), environmental hygiene, crowding) and unpredictability measures (parental unemployment, paternal absence, household moves) predicted how much alloparental assistance families in Cebu, Philippines received, in a multigenerational study with data collected across four decades. Though worse environmental hygiene predicted more concurrent alloparental care in 1994, we found little evidence that HUEs predict within-population variation in alloparental care in this large-scale, industrialized society. Indeed, less-crowded conditions and higher SES predicted more alloparental care, not less, in the 1980s and in 2014 respectively, while paternal absence in middle childhood predicted less reliance on alloparental care in adulthood. In this cultural context, our results generally do not provide support for the translation of interspecific or intersocietal patterns linking HUEs and alloparental care to intra-population variation in alloparental care, nor for the idea that a reproductive strategy emphasizing alloparental care use may be preceded by early life HUEs.

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© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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