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We work on the dynamics and evolution of social and economic systems in contemporary contexts. We are especially interested in the dynamics of kinship, inequality, and wealth.

Given the importance of the family in human social organization, many important human characteristics must be understood in the context of kinship. Our research explores bidirectional effects of the family on social systems, economies, cooperation, education, and demographic outcomes, including health and well-being. We seek to extend the lessons we learn at the family level to understand health, well-being, and inequality at the population level.


We study societies undergoing socio-economic transition, market integration, and acculturation. We collect data in the field using surveys, participant observation, and anthropometrics. We analyze data quantitatively, using  a range of statistical methods and contextualize our statistical results using qualitative data and ethnographic reports. We work primarily with the Mosuo, minority agriculturalists who live in the Himalayan mountains of southwestern China, and Melanesian Ni-Vanuatu.

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Social Structure among the Mosuo 

We have explored the socioecological factors underlying variation in kinship, parenting, and social practices. We have tested hypotheses that predict adaptive change in kinship and inheritance as individuals and families shift from subsistence-based economies to economies based on labor markets, and we have explored the impacts of such shifts on functional and demographic outcomes. We used data from structured interviews and demographic surveys to show that kinship is variable among the Mosuo, and differs from normative characterizations, particularly in areas subject to the influence of tourism. We used cross-sectional data from demographic surveys to show that historical land inheritance among the Mosuo can be seen as a form of daughter-biased inheritance. Evidence of daughter preference is stronger among patrilineal than matrilineal Mosuo. Fathers are also more important to the Mosuo than people previously claimed, and invest available resources in their children.

Health and Demography in Vanuatu 

We work in Vanuatu (Efate and Tanna) to investigate the effects of economic development on wealth and health, and how social relationships mediate these effects. Preliminary results from our first field season in summer 2016, reveal patterns in health that differ according to age and lifestyle.

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