2019 Evolutionary Anthropology Society Awards

Every year, the Evolutionary Anthropology Society (EAS) recognizes outstanding research presented at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting. Best Paper by a Student is awarded to an individual who was enrolled as a student at the time of paper submission, and Best Paper by a New Investigator is awarded to an individual who received their PhD within five years of submission.

This year, EAS recognized the contributions of two students: Adam Reynolds (University of New Mexico) and Curtis Atkisson (University of California, Davis).

Adam Reynolds’s presentation,“Kinship Predicts Inflammation and Hypertension among the Mosuo of Southwest China,” examined the effect of gender bias on women’s health. Societies that prioritize women (e.g., matrilineal, matrilocal) are hypothesized to improve health for women, yet direct evidence remains elusive. The researchers tested this hypothesis among the Mosuo of China, an ethnic population with distinct matrilineal and patrilineal subpopulations that share identity and broader cultural norms, but exhibit reversed gender biases in access to resources. Specifically, they analyzed whether matrilineal communities showed reversed disparities in inflammation and hypertension compared to patrilineal communities. The researchers found that women experience higher prevalence of chronic inflammation and hypertension than men in patrilineal communities, but lower prevalence in matrilineal communities. Chronic inflammation and disease risk thus depend not only on gender, but also on societal gender norms. The presentation was co-authored by Katherine Wander, Chun-Yi Sum, Mingjie Su, Melissa Emery Thompson, Paul L. Hooper, Hui Ii, Mary K. Shenk, Kathrine E. Starkweather, Tami Blumenfield, and Siobhan M. Mattison.

Curtis Atkisson’s presentation, “Multiplex Structures in Food Sharing Networks Predicts Hunter,” co-authored by Kelly Fin, examined the buffering effects of food sharing. The causes and consequences of food sharing have long been of interest to anthropologists. One of the often-posited consequences of food sharing networks is that they buffer individuals from the risk inherent in subsistence livelihoods, leading well-buffered individuals to experience hunger less often. A recent debate has surrounded whether and how the nature of relationships that an individual has (e.g., reciprocal and within- or between-domains) buffers them from risk. The authors develop measures of relationship diversity that utilize the multiplex structure of human social networks and quantify the information contained in them. They use these measures to demonstrate that information unique to the multiplex structure predicts hunger in a sample of Makushi people from southern Guyana. The researchers show that redundancy in relationship types results in less hunger. This demonstrates the ability of multiplex networks and information theory to quantitatively represent interesting facets of relationships of individuals who are involved in many domains and with many alters.

EAS also recognized the contributions of two early career researchers: Melanie Martin (University of Washington) and Katherine Starkweather (University of New Mexico).

Melanie Martin’s presentation “WHO You Calling Short? International Growth Standards vs. Local References in Statistical Models & Implications for Biological Relevance” raised important methodological considerations for identifying determinants of child growth variance within populations. It is common practice for researchers to convert raw anthropometric measures into age- and sex-standardized z-scores (e.g., height-for-age, HAZ) calculated from the World Health Organization growth standards. However, Martin’s research suggests that the statistical significance of some predictor variables can be overestimated or underestimated when z-scores are calculated from WHO vs. within-population growth references. Using data collected from Tsimane infants aged zero to three years old, Martin constructed several plausible multiple regression models of factors predicting HAZ, WAZ, and WHZ scores, running identical models with growth outcomes alternately calculated from WHO standards vs. robust Tsimane growth references. While standardized coefficients of most independent variables in the WHO vs. Tsimane models were similar, estimates for infant age and weaning effects varied between WHO and Tsimane models. These differences were primarily due to age-skewed distributions of WHO HAZ scores, which overestimated the true population variance in relative height. These findings, published in a recent paper, may have particular methodological relevance for anthropologists working with smaller populations and interested in variance in growth determinants that are strongly age-patterned.

Katherine Starkweather’s presentation, “Mother’s Work and Child Illness: Disease Ecology of Shodagor Women’s Work,” co-authored with Monica Keith, examined the compatibility of women’s work and childcare. When women do work that is not compatible with childcare, evolutionary theory predicts negative outcomes for women’s reproductive success, including child survival, health, and well-being. Traditionally boat-dwelling Shodagor women in Bangladesh have two possible occupations: fishing, which women often do while simultaneously caring for infants and children of all ages; and trading, which is incompatible with childcare. The researchers compared one proxy measure for reproductive success—number of days of child illness—between households in which mother fishes and in which she trades in order to test the evolutionary hypothesis about impacts of women’s work on child outcomes. Using 19 months of longitudinal data from 157 children, the authors used a Bayesian MCMC glmm to test the relationship of child illness to mother’s occupation, controlling for season, child age, and child sex, and with random effects for the individual and the household. The authors found that children whose mothers are traders have significantly more days of illness per month than children whose mothers fish. The researchers suggest that among other potential explanations outcomes may be related to the quality of a child’s caregiver. These results offer support for the evolutionary hypothesis that negative child outcomes may be associated with occupations in which women have to make trade-offs in time allocation between work and childcare.

Sheina Lew-Levy is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded postdoctoral researcher at Simon Fraser University, and a contributing editor for the Evolutionary Anthropology Society’s section news column.

Cite as: Lew-Levy, Sheina. 2020. “2019 Evolutionary Anthropology Society Awards.” Anthropology News website, July 17, 2020. DOI: 10.14506/AN.1461

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