Does alloparental care vary across a rural-urban gradient in north-western Tanzania?

This week in the CRESIDA seminar series, our speaker is Anushe Hassan from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who is sharing his research on alloparental care in Tanzania. Come and join us on Thursday, February 14th at 4.15pm in Room G070 at Parkstead House to learn more.

Anushe Hassan


Human mothers receive substantial support from extended kin in raising their offspring across a number of societies. Evolutionary anthropologists, human behavioural ecologists and demographers have documented this extensively in sub-Saharan Africa and demonstrated considerable flexibility in exactly who cares for children. However, there is still relatively little research that determines which factors predict who provides this help. Here, we compare differences in who helps mothers across a rural-urban gradient, including help from maternal kin, paternal kin and non-kin. We focus on children under age-5, a period with high mortality risk which is fundamental in establishing later-life physical and cognitive development. Using data on 808 children in two north-western Tanzanian communities (one village, one town), we examine in unusual detail exactly what help mothers receive, often missing from other studies. Regression analyses test differences in multiple types of care provision to each child comparing rural/urban residence: resource allocation, washing, cooking/feeding, playing with, supervising and caring when sick. Results indicate that maternal kin help mothers more across all six measures than paternal kin, except cooking for/feeding the child for which paternal kin help more in the village and maternal kin in the town. We additionally find that kin members help mothers more in the village whereas more non-kin members (i.e. friends and neighbours) provide help in the town, especially with supervising and playing with the children. Our findings illustrate the different kin mothers seek help from depending on their residence and are in line with hypotheses suggesting kin networks break down, and non-kin become more important, as societies modernise. We draw on evolutionary models of cooperative breeding and the demographic transition to discuss the potential impact of urbanisation on the type and availability of alloparental support for mothers as well as its implications for maternal and child wellbeing.

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