American Anthropologist

What Have We Learned from Cross-Cultural Surveys?1


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    I am specially indebted to David Aberle, Herbert A. Barry, Gertrude E. Dole, Edwin E. Erikson, John L. Fischer. Alan Lomax, Enid Margolis, Frada Naroll, Keith Otterbein, Charlotte Swanson Otterbein, Paul C. Rosenblatt, and Terrence A. Tatje for particularly generous help with comments, suggestions, and materials. I also thank Martin G. Allen, Ira Buchler, Harold E. Driver, Melvin Ember, Leonora Greenbaum, Dwight B. Heath, Hope Isaacs, Paul Kay, George P. Murdock, Moni Nag, Timothy O'Leary, Robert A. Textor, William Stephens, Dorrian Apple Sweetser, Douglas White, and Alvin W. Wolfe for their comments, suggestions, and materials. I alone am responsible for errors, presumption, and other shortcomings.


This is a review of cross-cultural surveys. The tasks and problems of such surveys are reviewed and a system of evaluating their validity is presented. Surveys of kinship have shown the validity of a developmental pattern in residence rules, descent rules, and kin terms; much has been learned about kin avoidances and much suggested about inheritance, marriage, and divorce patterns. Surveys of cultural evolution have established the validity of seven major elements of cultural evolution and firmly linked these to archeological findings; evolutionary links to several aspects of life style have also been shown or suggested. Many surveys have shown relationships between child training and adult behavior and between social settings and antisocial behavior, but the nature of the linkages remains largely unsettled. Unresolved too are most conflicts between rival modes of explanation of functional conundrums, such as puberty rites and unilateral cross-cousin marriage. Factor analyses of large trait matrices have shown the importance of at least five major factors.