Evolutionary history of partible paternity in lowland South America

Robert S. Walker, Mark V. Flinn, Kim Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Partible paternity, the conception belief thatmore than oneman can contribute to the formation of a fetus, is common in lowland South America and characterized by nonexclusive mating relationships and various institutionalized forms of recognition and investment by multiple cofathers. Previous work has emphasized the fitness benefits for women where partible paternity beliefs facilitate paternal investment from multiple men and may reduce the risk of infanticide. In this comparative study of 128 lowland SouthAmerican societies, the prevalence of partible paternity beliefsmay be asmuch as two times as common as biologically correct beliefs in singular paternity. Partible paternity beliefs are nearly ubiquitous in four large language families-Carib, Pano, Tupi, and Macro-Je. Phylogenetic reconstruction suggests that partible paternity evolved deep in Amazonian prehistory at the root of a tentative Je-Carib-Tupi clade. Partible paternity often occurs with uxorilocal postmarital residence (males transfer), although there are exceptions. Partible paternity may have benefits for both sexes, especially in societies where essentially all offspring are said to have multiple fathers. Despite a decrease in paternity certainty, at least some men probably benefit (or mitigate costs) by increasing their number of extramarital partners, using sexual access to their wives to formalize male alliances, and/or sharing paternity with close kin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19195-19200
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number45
StatePublished - Nov 9 2010


  • Amazonia
  • Human mating strategies
  • Multiple fathers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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