Thursday, February 25, 2010

China and interesting times ...

In North America and Western Europe, the past forty years have seen a radical shift in the marriage market. Before, there were too few single men, particularly past the age of 25. Now, there are too many at all reproductive ages … and even beyond.

A similar shift has occurred in East Asia, in part for similar reasons. First, with the dramatic reduction in male mortality, especially male infantile mortality, the sex ratio at birth (normally 105 boys per 100 girls) now persists to 50 years of age and beyond. Second, with liberal divorce laws, older men can more easily re-enter the marriage market and remarry with younger women. Finally, there is a synergy between these two trends. With many more men living into their 40s and 50s, younger men have to reckon with a source of sexual competition that never existed before.

But East Asian societies face another reason for the steady rise in the ratio of single males to single females: a higher sex ratio at birth. To begin with, this ratio seems naturally higher among East Asians, i.e., in the range of 107 males / 100 females. As elsewhere, this higher ratio is now lasting well into adulthood.

To make things worse, the sex ratio at birth has been steadily rising in some East Asian countries because many parents are now using ultrasound technology to abort female fetuses. In China, this ratio has risen from 1.07 in 1980 to 1.18 in 2005 (Poston & Zhang, 2009). Similar increases have been reported from South Korea and Taiwan (Hudson & Den Boer, 2002).

The result? A worsening wife shortage throughout much of East Asia. With not enough prospective brides in their home countries, more and more East Asian men are looking elsewhere. In South Korea, international marriages rose from 4.8% of all marriages in 2001 to 13.6% in 2005. In Taiwan, the rise has been even more dramatic: 32% of all marriages in 2003.

Unlike the situation in North America and Western Europe, governments are recognizing this problem as something to be dealt with and not simply ignored:

In both Korea and Japan, there is concern to maintain ethnic homogeneity, which leads to a basically conservative stance by the government with regard to international marriages, but at the same time in both countries, there are groups of men who are seen to be missing out in the domestic marriage market (in particular, the low educated, and farmers in certain regions of the country) who are seen to require assistance in finding brides internationally. The end result is interesting: the promotion in Korea of marriages between Korean farmers and Korean Chinese women who, although foreigners, are at least of the same ethnicity […]; the involvement, in Japan, of local government in mail order bride programmes in areas such as rural northern Honshu where there was a perceived crisis in the marriage market … (Jones & Shen, 2008)

East Asian governments thus tend to promote international marriage while ensuring that the brides-to-be are physically and culturally similar to their own populations. Unfortunately, the pool of ethnically similar women lies almost entirely in China, which itself is facing a wife shortage. In the not-so-distant future, the Chinese government will probably halt this emigration, or it will simply dry up of its own accord.

What then? Will East Asian governments allow their bachelors to look farther afield? Or will they attack the problem at its source? Will they start paying women to have daughters in order to bring the sex ratio back to parity?

In this, China is in the worst situation. On the one hand, it has the most unbalanced sex ratio in East Asia. On the other, its bachelors are poorly positioned in the international marriage market, since they earn much less money than do bachelors in South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. Where can they go to find wives?

The most likely place seems to be sub-Saharan Africa, with Ethiopia being especially likely. With their relatively light skin and fine features, Ethiopian women seem to be the most attractive candidates. Chinese entrepreneurs are also well established in that country. This topic came up on an online thread about Chinese-Ethiopian marriages. One Chinese commenter wrote:

In China the Ethiopian women is revered as a Holy God. Every day we say prayer that God will send us an Ethiopian woman for marriage so that our children are smart, beautiful, and clever like Ethiopia.

Two Ethiopian commenters added:

Nice.. Heheh but i think Ethiopian woman date chinese. If you go and see Ethiopia, many chinese dating Ethiopian.... :)

Overall, considering the shortage of brides in China, I am all for Sino Ethiopian pact to have as many intermarriages as possible.

If the example of South Korea and Taiwan is any indication, African bride immigration to China should increase exponentially and level off only when the ‘market’ reaches saturation. And remember: China has 29-33 million young surplus males (Hudson & Boer, 2002). Bachelors tend to look for foreign wives when they have friends and acquaintances who have already gone this route, i.e., the ‘effect of example’. There is thus a strong potential for exponential growth with no immediate limit, other than the limits imposed by the Chinese government.

And it’s unlikely that the Chinese government will impose any. First, any restrictive legislation would be seen as being racist by a continent that supplies a growing share of China’s raw materials. Second, the Chinese government tends to see international marriages positively, both as a form of ‘soft power’ to increase influence abroad and as a way to reduce discontent among young Chinese bachelors.

Thus, in the near future, we may see the emergence of a partly African minority in China, numbering perhaps in the tens of millions. This is all the likelier because the African brides will tend to have higher fertility than native Chinese women. Of course, the Chinese government could step in to enforce the 1-child policy, but this policy is only weakly enforced now and any efforts to toughen enforcement would be perceived as being racist … not only by the couples involved but also by China’s suppliers of raw materials.

With China being constrained by the dictates of the global marketplace, in this and in other areas of domestic policy, we may eventually see a nasty reaction against globalization that pits the Chinese people against their government and their increasingly globalist business class. At the very least, China will enter a social environment where racism and colorism are real day-to-day concerns, and not simply theoretical ones.


Hudson, V.M. & A.D. Boer. (2002). A surplus of men, a deficit of peace. Security and sex ratios in Asia’s largest states, International Security, 26, 5-38.

Jones, G. & H-H. Shen. (2008). International marriage in East and Southeast Asia: trends and research emphases, Citizenship Studies, 12, 9-25.

Poston, D.L. & L. Zhang. (2009). China’s unbalanced sex ratio at birth : how many surplus boys have been born in China since the 1980s? in J.D. Tucker & D.L. Poston (eds.) Gender Policy and HIV in China, The Springer Series on Demographic Methods and Population Analysis 22.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

When is the tipping point?

Blue = more men than women, Red = more women than men
US Census Bureau's 2006 American Community Survey, marital status by sex and age.

Over the past forty years, there has been a remarkable flip-flop in the ratio of single males to single females, particularly in the reproductive age bracket. Beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s, this ‘operational sex ratio’ slipped from male scarcity to parity and then to a relative excess of males, due to a decline in male mortality and an increase in divorce and remarriage by older men with younger women (Pedersen, 1991). The imbalance seems to have steadily worsened. In Germany, single men now outnumber single women up to the age of 60 (Glowsky, 2007). In England and Wales, the latest statistics show that the tipping point has inched up to the age of 75:

But good news is on the horizon. Figures show a growth in the pool of potentially eligible men — now they may end up being the ones doing the chasing. There are more single men in England and Wales than the total number who are married, divorced or widowed for the first time since comparable records began in 2002.

Single men outnumber unmarried women in every age group apart from the over-75s, according to the official statistics on marriage, published yesterday. (source)

The imbalance is even worse (or better, from the above journalist’s viewpoint) if we look only at childless singles. And then there’s the rising incidence of polygyny among ostensibly ‘single’ people …

What about the United States? Jonathan Soma has created an interactive map that shows the operational sex ratio by city and by age group. In the 18 to 29 group, single men clearly dominate (see above map). The tipping point is reached in most East Coast cities with the 35-39 group and in New York with 40-44 year-olds. So shy American males can count themselves lucky. They only have to wait until their late 30s to get married.

Why the difference between the U.S. and England? I suspect the difference lies in the African American and Hispanic American populations. African Americans in particular have a low sex ratio at birth and relatively high male mortality in young age brackets.

Surprisingly, this demographic shift has elicited little comment. I suspect part of the reason is that shy males tend to become computer programmers rather than members of the ‘chattering class’. The latter tend to be … single women.


Glowsky, D. (2007). Why do German men marry women from less developed countries? SOEP papers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research #61

Pedersen, F.A. (1991). Secular trends in human sex ratios: Their influence on individual and family behavior, Human Nature, 2, 271-291.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

John Tooby and Leda Cosmides. Why not collaborate?

The Standard Model therefore frees those in the biological sciences to pursue their research in peace, without having to fear that they might accidentally stumble into or run afoul of highly charged social or political issues. It offers them safe conduct across the politicized minefield of modern academic life. This division of labor is, therefore, popular: Natural scientists deal with the nonhuman world and the “physical” side of human life, while social scientists are the custodians of human minds, human behavior, and, indeed, the entire human mental, moral, political, social, and cultural world. Thus, both social scientists and natural scientists have been enlisted in what has become a common enterprise: the resurrection of a barely disguised and archaic physical/mental, matter/spirit, nature/human dualism, in place of an integrated scientific monism. (Barkow, Cosmides, & Tooby, 1992)

In writing the above words, the evolutionary psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides were denouncing an unwritten agreement that had let researchers study everything about our species in biological terms … except the human mind. Concretely, this modus vivendi denied ‘safe conduct’ to those who wanted to investigate genetic influences on the way the mind develops and functions, unless the creature in question was nonhuman.

While attacking these constraints on research, Tooby and Cosmides actually paved the way for a new set of constraints. Academics would be free to study genetic influences on the mind, as long as these influences did not differ from one human population to another. The two evolutionary psychologists saw no problem in this because, in their opinion, there were no population differences to study.

They justified this opinion on two grounds. First, the more complex the adaptation, the more genes it involves, and the more time needed to make all of the right changes to all of the right genes. Therefore, evolution has created only simple traits during the relatively recent presence of modern humans outside Africa (< 50,000 years):

It is no more plausible to believe that whole new mental organs could evolve since the Pleistocene—i.e., over historical time—than it is to believe that whole new physical organs such as eyes would evolve over brief spans. It is easily imaginable that such things as the population mean retinal sensitivity might modestly shift over historical time, and similarly minor modifications might have been made in various psychological mechanisms. However, major and intricate changes in innately specified information-processing procedures present in human psychological mechanisms do not seem likely to have taken place over brief spans of historical time.

… For these and other reasons, the complex architecture of the human psyche can be expected to have assumed approximately modern form during the Pleistocene, in the process of adapting to Pleistocene conditions, and to have undergone only minor modifications since then (Tooby & Cosmides, 1989, p. 34).

There was a second justification for the new modus vivendi. Because the past fifty thousand years have seen our species diversify into a wide range of environments, recent traits would tend to be adaptive in some environments but not in others. And their underlying genetic variants would tend to proliferate in some populations but not in others. Yet such population specificity seems impossible. At almost any genetic marker (blood types, serum proteins, enzymes, mtDNA, etc.), a typical gene varies much more within than between human populations. And this is true not only for large continental populations but also for small local ones. The geneticist Richard Lewontin (1972) concluded that 85% of our genetic variation exists only among individuals and not between ‘races.’

Tooby and Cosmides (1990, p. 35) explicitly referenced Lewontin’s paper when they argued this point:

Human groups do not differ substantially in the types of genes found, but instead only in the relative proportions of those alleles. … What this means is that the average genetic difference between one Peruvian farmer and his neighbor, or one Bornean horticulturist and her best friend, or one Swiss villager and his neighbor, is 12 times greater than the difference between the "average genotype" of the Swiss population and the "average genotype" of the Peruvian population (i.e., the within-group variance is 12 times greater than the between-group variance).

This is true but does not mean what one might think. The same genetic overlap exists not only between populations of one species, like our own, but also between related species, like canids.

[U]sing genetic and biochemical methods, researchers have shown domestic dogs to be virtually identical in many respects to other members of the genus. … there is less mtDNA difference between dogs, wolves and coyotes than there is between the various ethnic groups of human beings, which are recognized as belonging to a single species (Coppinger & Schneider, 1995, p. 32-33).

Nor is it true that genetic influences on behavior evolve over eons of time. As Henry Harpending and Gregory Cochran (2002) pointed out:

Even if 40 or 50 thousand years were too short a time for the evolutionary development of a truly new and highly complex mental adaptation, which is by no means certain, it is certainly long enough for some groups to lose such an adaptation, for some groups to develop a highly exaggerated version of an adaptation, or for changes in the triggers or timing of that adaptation to evolve. That is what we see in domesticated dogs, for example, who have entirely lost certain key behavioral adaptations of wolves such as paternal investment. Other wolf behaviors have been exaggerated or distorted.

The above points are so elementary that it’s a wonder they never crossed the mind of either John Tooby or Leda Cosmides. Or perhaps they did. I remember attending a talk where John Tooby expressed his skepticism about Lewontin’s 1972 paper, saying that within-population genetic variation was inflated by disease polymorphisms and other junk variability. In addition, he had a low opinion of Lewontin, as seen in this exchange in 2000 with Slate editor, Judith Shulevitz:

In the mid-1970's, for example, Gould, Lewontin, and a few others injected heavy-handed moralizing, easy denunciation, the attribution of dubious intellectual genealogies, and an ad hominem attack-style into scientific debate in an effort to settle intellectual disputes by other means.

… The most notorious tactic of Gould, Lewontin, and their allies during the early years was their attempt to drag the ideas they opposed under by manufacturing links to various repugnant doctrines. … More significantly, they did succeed in tarring the revolution in evolutionary biology in the eyes of nonbiologists, together with any serious attempt to think through the relationship between culture, human nature, and human evolution. This has perpetuated the antiquated status quo, during which social scientists have remained wary of the possibility of scientifically mapping human nature, and have remained almost totally ignorant of modern evolutionary biology. The cumulative harvest of suffering from this will not be small.

Why, then, did Tooby and Cosmides accept Lewontin’s findings so uncritically? Or was this acceptance simply window-dressing, an attempt to procure ‘safe conduct’ for their research?

Such a question has no easy answer. By the late 1970s, few academics wished to discuss whether or not human races exist, any more than people of another age wished to discuss whether or not Jesus had a biological father. There was only one acceptable view. The new academic environment thus allowed a lot of dubious ideas on this subject to go unchallenged because challenging them might lead to accusations of racism. Academics became used to having two sets of beliefs: those they really believed and those they believed for convenience sake. Over time, many lost the ability to distinguish between the two.

Well, so Tooby and Cosmides fudged their beliefs a bit. Wasn’t it worth it? Hasn’t the academic environment become much less hostile to research on “the relationship between culture, human nature, and human evolution”?

The answer to the last question is ‘yes’. It’s less clear, however, whether Tooby and Cosmides had anything to do with the improved academic environment. The last quarter of a century has seen broader societal changes that are probably more relevant.

One was the decline of the far left. In the early 1980s, every college in my city had a Marxist-Leninist club. By the end of the decade, they had all disappeared. Marxists had become few and far between even at the university.

A related factor was the aging of the baby-boomer generation. In the early 1980s, every social science department was flush with young people who often had no idea why they were there. By the end of the decade, the baby boomers were gone and enrolment in the social sciences had fallen by over a half. Students also now tended to be more cynical about politics and more narrowly focused on their studies.

Finally, in the mid-1990s, there was the rise of the Internet. It became possible to discuss ideas outside the normal channels of conferences, peer-reviewed journals, and university publishing houses. This freer academic environment gradually replaced the one that had arisen back in the mid-1970s when ideas flowed through fewer channels and were more easily controlled.

I suspect that Tooby and Cosmides deceived themselves in thinking they could obtain a ‘safe conduct’ for their research from the likes of Lewontin and Gould. The only real-world effect of this self-deception has been to make evolutionary psychology subservient to ideas that are, at best, dubious.


Barkow, J.H., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (eds.) (1992). The Adapted Mind. Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture, New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Coppinger, R., & R. Schneider, Evolution of working dogs, in: J. Serpell (Ed.), The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behaviour and Interactions with People, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995, pp. 21-47.

Harpending, H. & G. Cochran. (2002). In our genes, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 99(1), 10-12.

Lewontin, R.C. (1972). The apportionment of human diversity. Evolutionary Biology, 6, 381-398.

Tooby, T. & L. Cosmides. (1990). On the universality of human nature and the uniqueness of the individual: the role of genetics and adaptation, Journal of Personality, 58, 17-67.

Tooby, T. & L. Cosmides. (1989). Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture, Part I. Theoretical considerations, Ethology and Sociobiology, 10, 29-49.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Claude Lévi-Strauss. The refusal to collaborate

French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss is remembered as one of the leading postwar figures of antiracism. He personally encountered racism in 1940 when his Jewish origins cost him his teaching post. As an anthropologist in Brazil, he saw first-hand the dispossession of native peoples in the name of progress. In a UNESCO booklet, Race and History (1952), he pleaded for the preservation of all human cultures, saying that even the most ‘primitive’ ones deserved to survive.

This is the Lévi-Strauss we remember. There was, however, a later stage in his intellectual development that remains largely unknown to most of us, if only because little came of it.

We can see hints of these later views in his 1952 publication, which shows him already deviating from the postwar antiracist consensus:

There are [cultural] contributions that are systemic in character, i.e., corresponding to the specific way each society has chosen to express and satisfy human aspirations as a whole. These ways of life are undeniably original and irreplaceable, but since they represent so many different choices that are exclusive [to each society] it is hard to see how a civilization could benefit from another one’s way of life, unless it renounced being itself.

By the early 1970s, he had become convinced that the emerging world system would eventually liquidate all cultures, and not simply those of the upper Amazon. He also felt that antiracism was moving away from its role of defending the dispossessed and the politically marginalized. In fact, it was becoming the very thing it used to denounce.

These ideas found their way into a lecture he gave to UNESCO in 1971, ironically to launch the International Year for Action to Combat Racism. In this lecture, he attacked the idea that “the spread of knowledge and the development of communication among human beings will some day let them live in harmony, accepting and respecting their diversity ”:

Nothing indicates that race prejudices are decreasing, and everything suggests that after brief local lulls, they resurge elsewhere with increased intensity. Hence the need felt by UNESCO to periodically restart a fight whose outcome seems at the very least uncertain.

But are we so sure that the racial form of intolerance results primarily from false ideas that such or such a population has about the dependence of cultural evolution on biological evolution? Don’t these ideas simply provide an ideological cover for more real conflicts based on the desire to subordinate and on the relative strengths of competing groups (rapports de force)?

In addition, he argued that cultural intermixture is advantageous only if a certain distance is kept between cultures:

[Humanity] will have to relearn that all true creation implies some deafness to the call of other values, which may reach the point of rejecting or even negating them. One cannot at the same time melt away in the enjoyment of the Other, identify oneself with the Other, and keep oneself different. If fully successful, complete communication with the Other will doom its creative originality and my own in more or less short time. The great creative ages were those when communication had increased to the point that distant partners stimulated each other but not so often and rapidly that the indispensable obstacles between individuals, and likewise between groups, dwindled to the point that excessively easy exchanges would equalize and blend away their diversity.

He also maintained that many cultural differences have, over time, produced biological differences:

We cannot insist too much on one fact: although [natural] selection has allowed living species to adapt to the natural environment or to better resist its transformations, with humans the environment has ceased to be primarily natural. Humans derive their distinctive characteristics from technical, economic, social, and mental conditions that, through the operation of culture, create an environment specific to each human group.

… Among early humans, biological evolution may have selected for pre-cultural traits like capability to stand upright, manual dexterity, sociability, symbolic thinking, and ability to vocalize and communicate. It was culture, however, once it came into being, that consolidated these traits and propagated them. When cultures specialize, they consolidate and favor other traits, like resistance to cold or heat for societies that have willingly or unwillingly had to adapt to extreme climates, like dispositions to aggressiveness or contemplation, like technical ingenuity, and so on. In the form these traits appear to us on the cultural level, none can be clearly linked to a genetic basis, but we cannot exclude that they are sometimes linked partially and distantly via intermediate linkages. In this case, it would be true to say that each culture selects for genetic aptitudes that, via a feedback loop, influence the culture that had initially helped to strengthen them.

His lecture ended on a grim note. The population explosion, combined with competition for increasingly scarce resources, will push diverse populations together under conditions less than optimal for peaceful coexistence. Meanwhile, governments will continue to respond with an “ideological struggle against racism”, in the naïve belief that the rising level of tension is being caused by a rising level of ignorance.

… the path that mankind is going down is building up tensions such that racial hatreds provide a pretty poor picture of the regime of heightened intolerance that may become established tomorrow, without even having ethnic differences to serve as a pretext. To circumvent these perils, those of today and those, ever more redoubtable, in the near future, we must persuade ourselves that their causes are much deeper-rooted than those causes that may simply be put down to ignorance and prejudice. We can place our hope only in a change in the course of history, which is much harder to bring about than progress in the course of ideas.

He pursued this line of reasoning during the discussions that followed, as this account makes clear:

Lévi-Strauss felt that UNESCO was going astray by wanting to reconcile two opposed tendencies: civilising progress leads to growth in populations, which encourages cultural exchanges, but the latter lead to the obliteration of cultural diversity, while at the same time demographic saturation causes its inevitable share of intolerance and hostility towards peoples that have become rivals. In this situation, Lévi-Strauss came to maintain the right of every culture to remain deaf to the values of the Other, or even to contest them. This amounted to replacing the conception – defended by UNESCO – of humans spontaneously open to the Other and brought to cooperate with their fellow humans, by a conception of humans naturally inclined to be if not hostile, then at least reserved towards the Other.

Xenophobia – in the very moderate form that Lévi-Strauss gave to it, that of insensitivity to the values of the Other – is here transformed from a fact of modifiable culture into a fact of ineradicable nature. As a result, for Lévi-Strauss the UNESCO project became partially ineffectual, as one cannot hope to change unalterable human nature by action taken on its social element, through education and the fight against prejudice.

These words shocked the listeners. One can easily imagine how disconcerted UNESCO employees were, who, meeting Lévi-Strauss in the corridor after the lecture, expressed their disappointment at hearing the institutional articles of faith to which they thought they had the merit of adhering called into question. René Maheu, the Director General of UNESCO, who had invited Lévi-Strauss to give this lecture, seemed upset. (Stoczkowski, 2008)

Eight years later, Lévi-Strauss recalled this event at another conference. He spoke even more candidly this time, calling antiracism a “trap”:

I believe we have fallen into traps. I remember, if you will let me inject a personal note into this debate, that in 1952 I produced at UNESCO’s request a small booklet called Race and History in which I exalted collaboration between cultures, and in which I showed that it was only to the extent that cultures collaborated with each other willingly or unwillingly that larger, more solid ensembles would arise.

When UNESCO organized in 1971 the year against racism, I was asked to deliver the opening speech. So I said to myself: “No, all the same it’s not possible. We can’t go on year after year repeating nice sentiments and telling ourselves we’re going to further the progress of humanity this way.” And so instead of doing the same thing, like what I had done in 1952, I decided, and I assure you with no ulterior political motive, that I was going to do the opposite. I was going to show that the problems of nature and nurture were, after all, problems that existed, that it was not absolutely forbidden to look into them, and that it was not by affirming in the most sterile way that there were no differences between human groups and individuals that we would further the progress of humanity.

I need not tell you that this set off a huge scandal but I had no feeling of doing anything different from what I had done nearly twenty years before. I wanted to show that we were facing difficult problems and that for me to stick my head in the sand and refuse to look at them was no way to solve them (Lévi-Strauss, 1985, pp. 43-44)

Lévi-Strauss stressed the need for a new paradigm. Through it, we would be better able to examine the reality of human differences and thus be better positioned to face the oncoming “difficult problems.” As his other remarks at the conference make clear, he believed it would be developed by British and American evolutionary biologists, particularly those associated with the nascent field of sociobiology. In line with his 1971 lecture, he spelled out the form of this new paradigm: gene-culture co-evolution.

But it was not to be. I suspect he had been taken in by the sociobiology-bashing of the late 1970s. In reality, very few sociobiologists were interested in the subject, and most studiously avoided it. This avoidance became an article of faith for John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, who would form the vanguard of this field of study. They considered “implausible the notion that different humans have fundamentally different and competing cognitive programs” (Tooby & Cosmides, 1990, p. 30). After all, Richard Lewontin had proven that human racial variation was nonexistent, or almost so:

Human groups do not differ substantially in the types of genes found, but instead only in the relative proportions of those alleles. … What this means is that the average genetic difference between one Peruvian farmer and his neighbor, or one Bornean horticulturist and her best friend, or one Swiss villager and his neighbor, is 12 times greater than the difference between the "average genotype" of the Swiss population and the "average genotype" of the Peruvian population (i.e., the within-group variance is 12 times greater than the between-group variance) (Tooby & Cosmides, 1990, p. 35).

Ironically, Tooby and Cosmides were skeptical about Lewontin’s findings. I remember attending a talk where John Tooby argued that genetic variation within human groups was greatly inflated by disease polymorphisms and other junk variability. But none of this left a paper trail, probably because that was how they wanted it. They dreamed of getting tenure-track positions and didn’t want trouble. In any case, they had no idea that people like Lévi-Strauss were willing to step forward and take the flak with them.

Eventually, in the late 1990s, a small group of anthropologists began to propound something similar to what Lévi-Strauss had predicted. The term ‘race realism’ was bandied about and it seems to have stuck.

But by then Lévi-Strauss could do little to help. He was nearing his 90th birthday and needed assistance just to go to the bathroom.


Lévi-Strauss, C. (1985). Claude Lévi-Strauss à l’université Laval, Québec (septembre 1979), prepared by Yvan Simonis, Documents de recherche no. 4, Laboratoire de recherches anthropologiques, Département d’anthropologie, Faculté des Sciences sociales, Université Laval.

Lévi-Strauss, C. (1996). Race, histoire et culture,

Lewontin, R.C. (1972). The apportionment of human diversity. Evolutionary Biology, 6, 381-398.

Stoczkowski, W. (2008). Claude Lévi-Strauss and UNESCO, The UNESCO Courrier, no. 5, pp. 5-8.

Tooby, T. & L. Cosmides. (1990). On the universality of human nature and the uniqueness of the individual: the role of genetics and adaptation, Journal of Personality, 58, 17-67.