Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Cultural Viability and Gender Egalitarianism: An Elusive Balance Yet to Be Struck

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Cultural Viability and Gender Egalitarianism: An Elusive Balance Yet to Be Struck

Article excerpt

That cultures change over time can be seen as a given. Rome of the 20th century is quite different from the Rome of Caesar. The inhabitants of Manhattan, New York, have undergone a series of transformations since 1620. Chaucer's England is clearly distinct from the Beatles' England. Such changes could be considered random with no predictability at all in terms of the direction of changes. On the other side of the conceptual coin, such changes could be considered to reflect patterns which are both detectable and predictable.

In the early development of Anthropology as a discipline, "cultural" evolution - across generations - was an important component to Anthropological debate and scholarship. The direction and speed and magnitude of cultural changes received a good deal of theoretical attention (e.g. Bachofen 1861, Carneiro 1973, Lowie 1920, Stewart 1955, Morgan 1963, Maine 1873, Tylor 1851, Frazer 1958; see Harris [1971] for a review of the literature on macrotheories; cf Goodenough 1999). Impetuses of such changes have been conceptualized in the form of shifts in technology (White 1959, Childe 1951), economic structure (Harris 1979, Marx 1859; cf Fischer 1996), communication efficacy and forms of media (McLuhan 1964, 1967). More recent contributions have more focused on modeling/simulations and non-human examples of "cultural" evolution, e.g. Nisbett (1990), Sereno (1991 , and Takahasi (1998). For theories and discussions on bio-cultural feedback loops across generations, see Barkow (1980,1989), Durham (1979,1991) and Boyd & Richerson (1988).

However, the earlier enthusiasms waned. Part of the lessened interest was the lack of falsifiability to the macro-theories which were theoretically elegant, but difficult to hone down to testable hypotheses. In addition, when predictions could occur, there were too many counter-indicative cultures (Popper's "Black Swans" [Popper 1959, 1962]) which tended to invalidate the original model.

The effort presented here attempts to make a contribution to the domain of cultural evolution. The attempt includes (1) constructing a testable hypothesis, (2) testing the hypothesis across cultures, and (3) then interpreting the results in the context of a culture's competitive trajectory and viability across generations.

This inquiry proffers that the variable - access to tertiary education by gender - is systematically aligned, in a non-trivial manner, with the trajectory - across generations of any given culture. The character of that alignment is then suggested.

A sine qua non for the sheer existence across generations, of a/any culture is the presence of residents or citizens of that culture. A/any "culture" must have people to sustain itself. Given the importance of mating and reproductive strategies - writ small for families and writ large for the commonweal - the initial question to he asked and addressed becomes: "Is enhanced access for women to tertiary educational institutions (educational facilities beyond "high school") related to reproductive histories?"


The United Nations surveyed enrollment figures in tertiary educational institutions by gender (UNESCO 1999). Data were also available, across countries, on the median rate of natural increase for the years 1990-1994 (United Nations 1995, U.S. Bureau of the Census 1995, Sivard 1995). "Natural increase" is determined by subtracting "death rates" (number of deaths per 1000 population) from "birth rates" (number of births per 1000 population) for any given year. If the resulting number is positive, then the population is growing. If the number is negative, then the population is shrinking. If the number is zero, then the population is in stasis. One hundred and forty-eight countries had data for both indices: (1) percentage of students, by gender, in tertiary institutions and (2) rate of natural increase.

It may be noted that "nation" is a very coarse unit for analysis. Nations are very rarely homogeneous entities. …

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