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We test the contribution of sex differences in physical formidability, education, and cooperation to the acquisition of political leadership in a small-scale society. Among forager-farmers from the Bolivian Amazon, we find that men are more likely to exercise different forms of political leadership, including verbal influence during community meetings, coordination of community projects, and dispute resolution. We show that these differences in leadership are not due to gender per se but are associated with men’s greater number of cooperation partners, greater access to schooling, and greater body size and physical strength. Men’s advantage in cooperation partner number is tied to their participation in larger groups and to the opportunity costs of women’s intrahousehold labor. We argue these results highlight the mutual influence of sexual selection and the sexual division of labor in shaping how women and men acquire leadership.


NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Evolution and Human Behavior. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Evolution and Human Behavior, volume 39, issue 4, in 2018.

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