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Substitute Parents

Substitute Parents: Biological and Social Perspectives on Alloparenting in Human Societies

Gillian Bentley
Ruth Mace
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 372
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    Substitute Parents
    Book Description:

    From a comparative perspective, human life histories are unique and raising offspring is unusually costly: humans have relatively short birth intervals compared to other apes, childhood is long, mothers care simultaneously for many dependent children (other apes raise one offspring at a time), infant mortality is high in natural fertility/mortality populations, and human females have a long post-reproductive lifespan. These features conspire to make child raising very burdensome. Mothers frequently defray these costs with paternal help (not usual in other ape species), although this contribution is not always enough. Grandmothers, elder siblings, paid allocarers, or society as a whole, help to defray the costs of childcare, both in our evolutionary past and now. Studying offspring care in a various human societies, and other mammalian species, a wide range of specialists such as anthropologists, psychologists, animal behaviorists, evolutionary ecologists, economists and sociologists, have contributed to this volume, offering new insights into and a better understanding of one of the key areas of human society.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-953-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of Figures
    (pp. viii-x)
  5. PROLOGUE: Allomothers across Species, across Cultures, and through Time
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    Sarah B. Hrdy

    Mother mammals are guaranteed to be on hand at birth, and after months of gestating, are hormonally primed to respond to infantile signals. Maternal commitment to young is the best single predictor of their survival. No wonder mothers have played a key role in evolution. For two hundred million years, till the very recent discovery of pasteurized milk and baby bottles, breast milk was, so far as baby mammals were concerned, the only brand in town and mothers the only source of safety (Bowlby 1969). It would be hard to overstate the importance of the emotional bonds between baby mammals...

  6. 1 The Pros and Cons of Substitute Parenting: An Overview
    (pp. 1-10)
    Gillian R. Bentley and Ruth Mace

    Providing adequate care to dependent children in the face of competing time constraints is a problem faced by all human societies from foragers to modern industrialized nations. Alloparenting – or alternative caregiving to dependent offspring – is also a common phenomenon among many mammalian and avian species, as detailed by Nancy Solomon and Loren Hayes in Chapter 2 (Sarah Hrdy also provides an historical summary of the origin of this term in the Prologue). Although scholarly books have been published on alloparenting among birds (e.g., Woolfenden and Fitzpatrick 1984; Stacey and Koenig 1990) and mammals (Lee 1989; Solomon and French 1997) and...


    • 2 The Biological Basis of Alloparental Behaviour in Mammals
      (pp. 13-49)
      Nancy G. Solomon and Loren D. Hayes

      The study of human behaviour is typically conducted by social scientists, who emphasize cultural influences on behaviour. An alternative approach, the evolutionary perspective, assumes that social interactions are influenced by heritable predispositions to act in ways that were adaptive to humans in the past (Emlen 1997). The evolutionary perspective attempts to predict which specific behaviours were favoured in different social contexts, and whether the same predictions can be used to explain human behaviour seen today.

      The evolutionary perspective is based on three assumptions, as discussed by Emlen (1997). First, we assume that many social behaviours in animals have been shaped,...

    • 3 Family Matters: Kin, Demography and Child Health in a Rural Gambian Population
      (pp. 50-76)
      Rebecca Sear and Ruth Mace

      Alloparental care is a rare phenomenon (Clutton-Brock 1991). The costs of investing in another individual’s offspring usually outweigh any potential benefits gained through inclusive fitness (increasing one’s reproductive success by helping genetically related individuals survive and reproduce) or reciprocation (where the benefits derive from the recipient of the helping behaviour returning the favour in the future). But the human species appears to be one of the few mammalian examples where alloparenting is common. In traditional societies, mothers often receive help from their relatives in raising children. In post-industrial societies, help is often bought in or provided by the state. In...

    • 4 Does It Take a Family to Raise a Child? Cooperative Breeding and the Contributions of Maya Siblings, Parents and Older Adults in Raising Children
      (pp. 77-99)
      Karen L. Kramer

      The human life history pattern of short birth intervals, relatively high child survival and a long dependency period means that mothers are often in the position of supporting multiple dependents of various ages simultaneously. Because infants, young children and older children each require different kinds of time and energy investments, mothers are posed with an allocation problem throughout much of their reproductive career: how to provide childcare without compromising time spent in economic activities that provide food and other resources for older children (Hewlett 1991; Hill and Kaplan 1988; Hrdy 1999; Hurtado et al. 1992; Lee 1979; LeVine 1977; Panter-Brick...

    • 5 Flexible Caretakers: Responses of Toba Families in Transition
      (pp. 100-114)
      Claudia R. Valeggia

      The study of allomothering has received increasingly more attention from anthropologists and evolutionary biologists during the last decade. It is now well established that, compared to other primates, human children require extensive maternal care or investment. Considerable evidence shows that they also require non-parental investment as well if they want to improve their chances of survival. Furthermore, it has been hypothesized that allomaternal help was essential during human evolution (Hrdy 1999, 2005). According to the cooperative breeding hypothesis, childcare provided by people other than the mother played a pivotal role in shaping our species (Hrdy 2005). Allomothering would have allowed...

    • 6 Who Minds the Baby? Beng Perspectives on Mothers, Neighbours and Strangers as Caretakers
      (pp. 115-138)
      Alma Gottlieb

      In the contemporary middle class of many post-industrialized societies, families are constructed, at least discursively if not in actual fact, as what we call ‘nuclear’, and babies are raised – again, at least discursively if not in actual fact – so exclusively by one person, generally the mother, that many are convinced that this must be a ‘natural’ phenomenon with deep roots in biological structures (see Helen Penn, this volume). Yet at the same time that this discourse has firmly taken hold, anthropologists and other researchers have quietly but strikingly been documenting a notable array of caretaking strategies across time and space...

    • 7 Economic Perspectives on Alloparenting
      (pp. 139-159)
      Gillian Paull

      Public debate over the nature and desirability of alloparenting in the UK has become increasingly vocal in recent decades as rising numbers of mothers have chosen to return to paid employment rather than undertake full-time care of their children. Government policy has sought to enhance the availability and affordability of alloparenting (or ‘childcare’ to use the term employed in the economics literature)¹ through a variety of financial incentives and direct involvement in the childcare market, with the stated objectives of helping poorer families to escape from poverty and of reducing social and gender inequalities. An economic perspective on alloparenting can...

    • 8 The School as Alloparent
      (pp. 160-178)
      Berry Mayall

      Does it make sense to think of the school as an alloparent? Clearly schools and teachers share some responsibility with parents for the care and education of children, but a more interesting question is whether schoolsbehavelike parents, and this is the topic I address here. I argue that, in general, they do not, and that this matters. But there are a number of related issues which also complicate the response. This chapter approaches the topic along a series of avenues. I limit myself mainly to England, since this is where my data originate.

      There are perhaps two interlocking...

    • 9 The Parenting and Substitute Parenting of Young Children
      (pp. 179-193)
      Helen Penn

      Sociobiologists and primatologists, such as Sarah Hrdy (Prologue) have documented the evolutionary roots of primate behaviour. They have emphasized the variability of maternal and paternal behaviour across species. They also point to the ubiquitousness of alloparenting. Whether they live in gregarious communities, or whether they live more solitary lives, primate mothers are likely to have some direct help in rearing their young.

      In this chapter, I propose to examine some of the variations in parenting and alloparenting/substitute parenting which exist cross-culturally. I realize that the word ‘cross-cultural’ itself raises conceptual and methodological issues about the possibility of comparing very different...

    • 10 Adoption, Adopters and Adopted Children: An Evolutionary Perspective
      (pp. 194-212)
      David Howe

      It is in our close relationships with others that our psychological selves form and we learn to become socially competent. The process begins at birth and continues throughout life. For most children in the West, first long-term relationships form within the body of small ‘nuclear families’ in which children are raised by one or both of their biological parents. But what of children who, for one reason or another, cannot be looked after by their mothers or fathers? Who meets their needs? Tizard (1977: 2) observes that ‘couples without children, and children without parents, are likely to have unsatisfied needs...

    • 11 Surrogacy: The Experiences of Commissioning Couples and Surrogate Mothers
      (pp. 213-238)
      Emma Lycett

      Developments in the field of assisted reproduction have resulted in the creation of new family types in which genetic parenthood is dissociated from social parenthood leading us to a discussion of the concept of alloparenting.¹ In the case of surrogacy, where one woman bears a child for another woman, the mother who gives birth to the child, and the mother who parents the child, are not the same. There are two types of surrogacy: (i) partial (genetic) surrogacy where the surrogate mother and the commissioning father are the genetic parents of the child, and (ii) full (non-genetic) surrogacy where the...

  8. PART II: The Effect of Alloparenting on Children

    • 12 Alloparenting in the Context of AIDS in Southern Africa: Complex Strategies for Care
      (pp. 241-265)
      Lorraine van Blerk and Nicola Ansell

      Alloparenting, referring here to the care of children by people other than their biological parents, is not uncommon across sub-Saharan Africa (Foster and Williamson 2000). There are many instances of children being cared for outside the nuclear family unit, with fluid family structures and kinship relations resulting in children spending long periods of time growing up in the homes of their grandparents, aunts and uncles (see for example Urassa et al. 1997). Children may spend time living in a different household of the extended family² for a number of reasons: to attend school, to help in a relative’s household, to...

    • 13 Alloparental Care and the Ontogeny of Glucocorticoid Stress Response among Stepchildren
      (pp. 266-286)
      Mark V. Flinn and David Leone

      The human child has evolved to be highly dependent upon care provided by others over a long developmental period (Bogin 1999; Lancaster and Lancaster 1987). The altricial (helpless) infant requires a protective environment provided by intense parental and alloparental care in the context of kin groups (Hewlett and Lamb 2005; Hrdy 2005). The extended family is of paramount importance in a child’s world. Throughout human evolutionary history, parents and close relatives provided calories, protection, and information necessary for survival, growth, health, social success, and eventual reproduction. The human mind is therefore likely to have evolved special sensitivity to interactions with...

    • 14 Separation Stress in Early Childhood: Harmless Side Effect of Modern Caregiving Practices or Risk Factor for Development?
      (pp. 287-303)
      Joachim Bensel

      John Archer (2001) asks why grief has arisen in the course of evolution. He describes grief as a human universal which already occurs in social birds and mammals when they lose a ‘significant other’ through death or separation. He views it as the necessary result of the evolution of attachment, another genetically based behaviour which has brought an important fitness advantage for its bearer. The primary cause of grief for a child is separation from its attachment figure. The grief of adult humans is more complex, but is built on the basic separation reaction. Social emotions like grief appear to...

    • 15 Quality, Quantity and Type of Childcare: Effects on Child Development in the U.S.
      (pp. 304-324)
      Jay Belsky

      Two major factors were responsible for the initiation of so large and ambitious an investigation of the developmental eff ects of early childcare experience in the U.S. One had to do with changes taking place in maternal employment and the other concerned debates within the scholarly community about the potential consequences of such changes for children’s development.

      Over the past thirty years, great changes have taken place in not simply the number of mothers with young children in the labour force, but most especially in the timing of mothers’ return to employment following a child’s birth. Consider in this regard...

    • 16 ‘It feels normal that other people are split up but not your Mum and Dad’: Divorce through the Eyes of Children
      (pp. 325-341)
      Margaret Robinson, Lesley Scanlan and Ian Butler

      Over the last twenty years what constitutes normal family life has been radically redefined. With the decline in marriage as a life-long commitment and the associated increase in divorce, remarriage, stepfamilies and single parent households, many children now live in ‘non-nuclear’ families. Despite the number of children affected each year by such family changes it is only recently that researchers have sought to understand matters from the child’s point of view (e.g., Buchanan et al. 2001; Butler et al. 2002, 2003; Smart et al. 2001; Trinder et al. 2002) rather than through secondary sources such as parents (see Rodgers and...

  9. Glossary
    (pp. 342-344)
  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 345-350)
  11. Index
    (pp. 351-354)