Altruism as an Explanation for Human Consanguinity

Srdjan Denic, Mukesh M. Agarwal

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Human inbreeding is a sociobiological puzzle. Despite widespread knowledge of its potential for genetic disorders, human consanguinity remains surprisingly common. The current reasons explaining its continued persistence in today's modern world have major shortcomings. Summary: We propose that the Neolithic Agrarian revolution modified the structure of populations. It increased competition for the limited resources in which a larger group had better chances of survival. As a result, small, drifting, socially open bands of hunter-gatherers were transformed into bigger, less mobile, and more powerful kinship groups (tribes). In this transformation, a central role was played by human trust - an aspect of human altruism which is a universal sociobiological principle of behavior. Altruism (and trust) is an essential premise of social contracts such as economic cooperation, marriage arrangement, and creation of alliances between people. In kinship groups, human trust is limited to kin, so tribes remain small, economically poor, and consanguineous due to lack of nonkin mates. The expanding of trust from kin to that of nonbiological relatives increases the size of human groups, fosters economic wealth, and decreases the rate of consanguinity. Key Messages: The lack of nonkin altruism leads to: (a) poverty (due to poor economic cooperation with nonkin), (b) maintaining small group size, and (c) inbreeding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalPublic Health Genomics
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 23 2022


  • Community genetics
  • Human altruism
  • Human inbreeding
  • Mate selection
  • Public health
  • Sociobiological principles of behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Genetics(clinical)


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