Sex Segregation of Labor

Labor is strongly sex segregated everywhere, with males and females specializing in tasks congruent with their inherent interests, aptitudes, and training, and with practicalities such as distance from the settlement and compatibility with related tasks (Friedl, 1975; Murdock & Provost, 1973). The universality of sexual division of labor suggests that this arrangement has generally been advantageous. In all preliterate cultures the labor of husband and wife is complementary: women perform most of the domestic tasks, including child care, cleaning, and cooking, and men specialize in work requiring strength, such as handling heavy and hard materials (C. R. Ember & Ember, 2001; van den Berghe, 1980). Women in many forager societies provide most of the calories by gathering plants, a reliable and preservable source of food, whereas men supply protein-rich game and fish. Of the 46 tasks analyzed in terms of which sex performed each in how many traditional cultures (Murdock, 1965), 36 tasks were predominantly (at p < 0.001) performed by one sex or the other (G. E. Weisfeld, 1986).

Vestiges of this arrangement can be seen in modern society in that men still predominate in occupations requiring heavy manual labor and in the military, and women gravitate toward the service sector, which demands interpersonal skills at which females excel (Hall, 1984). Technical advances and changing social attitudes can, of course, alter the sex ratio of a given occupation dramatically, thus showing that genetic influences on behavior always interact with and may even be overridden by environmental influences. On the other hand, tolerance for women and men working in nontraditional roles has not increased measurably in recent years (Feingold, 1994; Lueptow et al., 1995,2001), and sex role "stereotypes" are similar across cultures (Williams & Best, 1986, 1990). Also, consistent with the resilience of many behavioral sex differences, attempts to obliterate sex roles have proven quite difficult and have been resisted by their alleged beneficiaries (e.g., Tiger & Shepher, 1975). Change in these expectations may occur very slowly, however; they are less pronounced in developed societies than in developing ones (Williams & Best, 1989).

What sort of labor do adolescents provide, and how does it aid the family? Research on the Hadza of Tanzania has shown that the adolescent boys provide food for their younger siblings, but also forage in order to improve their reputations as hunters (Blurton Jones, Hawkes, & O'Connell, 1997). That is, they practice kin altruism but also strive to advance their social standing and, ultimately, their mate value. Hadza adolescent girls often dig for roots while tending younger siblings. This is an inefficient foraging technique but it frees the mothers to forage more efficiently. In many preliterate cultures adolescents do not perform arduous labor. In the !Kung of southern Africa, for example, adolescents are discouraged from working hard until about age 15 (Blurton Jones, Hawkes, & Draper, 1993). Evidently the optimal reproductive strategy in this forager society is extensive care of offspring, including prolonged breast-feeding. This line of research suggests that cultural and individual differences in adolescent industriousness and other traits can often be explained by family and ecological factors. One adolescent may be slothful because cultural selection has favored an easy life under his or her circumstances. Another adolescent may be industrious because she will be fitter biologically by acquiring a reputation for industry or by aiding kin. Adolescents devote themselves to subsistence activities, training, supervision of children, and courtship in patterns that vary across cultures, gender, and individuals, but this variation seems to fall into functional patterns. Socialization by the family sometimes directs an adolescent toward particular tasks. For example, adolescents with working mothers have a more favorable attitude toward working women than do those with nonemployed mothers (Huston & Alvarez, 1990). Sometimes the effects of participating in sex-specific tasks can transfer to other contexts. Luo boys in Kenya who were assigned indoor feminine tasks behaved in a generally more feminine manner than did boys assigned outdoor feminine tasks (C. R. Ember, 1973).

New Mothers Guide to Breast Feeding

New Mothers Guide to Breast Feeding

For many years, scientists have been playing out the ingredients that make breast milk the perfect food for babies. They've discovered to day over 200 close compounds to fight infection, help the immune system mature, aid in digestion, and support brain growth - nature made properties that science simply cannot copy. The important long term benefits of breast feeding include reduced risk of asthma, allergies, obesity, and some forms of childhood cancer. The more that scientists continue to learn, the better breast milk looks.

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