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Human kin cooperation is universal, leading researchers to label humans as “cooperative breeders.” Despite widespread interest in human cooperation, there has been no systematic study of how household economic decision making occurs. We document age and sex profiles of task delegation by parents to children ages 4–18 among Bolivian forager-horticulturalists. We test for sex differences in the probability of delegation and examine whether tasks are more likely delegated as household labor demand increases. We also test whether food acquisition tasks are more likely delegated to higher producers.We find mixed support for the prediction that girls are more likely delegated domestic and alloparenting tasks than boys (np173 children). Both sexes are more likely delegated tasks during rice harvest months; number of coresident young children is also associated with greater probability of delegated allocare, although the effect retains significance for girls only. For both sexes, father absence is associated with greater probability of delegation, particularly for food acquisition tasks. Children delegated rice harvesting achieve 45% higher mean daily caloric returns from harvesting than children not delegated harvesting. Our results therefore suggest that delegation increases household economic efficiency. We find mixed support for the hypothesis that delegation prepares children for sex-specific adult roles.


This article was originally published in Current Anthropology, volume 54, issue 2, in 2013.

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University of Chicago Press