Drew H. Bailey, Kim R. Hill, and Robert S. Walker (April 2014)
Social norms that regulate reproductive and marital decisions generate impressive cross-cultural variation in the prevalence of kin marriages. In some societies, marriages among kin are the norm and this inbreeding creates intensive kinship networks concentrated within communities. In others, especially forager societies, most marriages are between more genealogically and geographically distant individuals, which generates a larger number of kin and affines of lesser relatedness in more extensive kinship networks spread out over multiple communities. Here, we investigate the fitness consequence of kin marriages across a sample of 46 small-scale societies (12 439 marriages). Results show that some non-forager societies (including horticulturalists, agriculturalists and pastoralists), but not foragers, have intensive kinship societies where fitness outcomes (measured as the number of surviving children in genealogies) peak at commonly high levels of spousal relatedness. By contrast, the extensive kinship systems of foragers have worse fitness outcomes at high levels of spousal relatedness. Overall, societies with greater levels of inbreeding showed a more positive relationship between fitness and spousal relatedness.