Marriages among kin have the dual effect of both increasing average group relatedness as well as reducing the total number of kin by eliminating more genealogically and geographically distant individuals from kinship networks. Marriage decisions therefore face a tradeoff between density of kin, or formation of intensive kinship systems, and the diversity of kin, or extensive kinship systems. This article tests the hypothesis that extensive kinship systems best characterize hunter-gatherer societies, whereas more intensive forms of subsistence, like horticultural, agricultural, and pastoral economies, are more likely to have intensive kinship systems.


Here, we investigate the wide range of variation in prevalence of kin marriages across a sample of 46 small-scale societies, split evenly between hunter-gatherers and agropastoralists (including horticulturalists), using genealogies that range in depth from 4 to 16 generations. Regression methods examine how subsistence and polygyny relate to spousal relatedness and inbreeding across societies.


On average, hunter-gatherers show limited numbers of kin marriages and low levels of inbreeding, whereas some agropastoralists are characterized by much higher levels of both, especially in societies where polygynous marriages are more common.


Intensive kinship systems emerge in some intensive economies. This pattern may have favored a kin-selected increase in more large-scale cooperation and inequality occurring relatively recently in human history after the advent of domesticated plants and animals. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 26:384–388, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.