How do hunter-gatherer children learn social and gender norms? A meta-ethnographic review

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Lavi, N 
Reckin, R 
Cristobal-Azkarate, J 
Ellis-Davies, K 

Forager societies tend to value egalitarianism, cooperative autonomy, and sharing. Furthermore, foragers exhibit a strong gendered division of labour. However, few studies have employed a cross-cultural approach to understand how forager children learn social and gender norms. To address this gap, we perform a meta-ethnography, which allows for the systematic extraction, synthesis, and comparison of quantitative and qualitative publications. 77 publications met our inclusion criteria. These suggest that sharing is actively taught in infancy. In early childhood, children transition to the playgroup, signifying their increased autonomy. Cooperative behaviours are learned through play. At the end of middle childhood, children self-segregate into same-sex groups and begin to perform gender-specific tasks. We find evidence that foragers actively teach children social norms, and that, with sedentarization, teaching, though direct instruction and task assignment, replaces imitation in learning gendered behaviours. We also find evidence that child-to-child transmission is an important way children learn cultural norms, and that non-interference might be a way autonomy is taught. These findings can add to the debate on teaching and learning within forager populations.

social learning, teaching, gender norms, social norms, hunter-gatherer children, forager children
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Cross-Cultural Research
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SAGE Publications
Lew-Levy acknowledges the Cambridge International Trust and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (award number: 752-2016-0555) for support while conducting this research. Reckin thanks the Gates Cambridge Trust for support while conducting this research.