Kin terms and fitness interdependence

Lee Cronk, Dieter Steklis, Netzin Steklis, Olmo van den Akker, C Athena Aktipis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Although genetic relatedness has been shown to be an important determinant of helping and other forms of cooperation among kin, it does not correspond well to the different types of kin designated by the kin terminologies used in human societies. This mismatch between genetic relatedness and kin terms has led some anthropologists to reject the idea that kin terms have anything to do with genetic relatedness or anything else biological. The evolutionary and cultural anthropological approaches can be reconciled through an appreciation of the concept of fitness interdependence, defined as the degree to which two or more organisms positively or negatively influence each other's success in replicating their genes. Fitness interdependence may arise for a variety of reasons, including not only genetic relatedness but also mating and marriage, risk-pooling, mutual aid, and common group membership. The major kin term systems correspond to cross-culturally variable but recurrent patterns of fitness interdependence among different types of kin. In addition, changes from one kin term system to another are associated with corresponding changes in recurrent patterns of fitness interdependence among kin, and kin terms are often used metaphorically in situations in which fitness interdependence has arisen among non-kin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-291
Number of pages11
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2019


  • Fitness interdependence
  • Genetic relatedness
  • Kin terms
  • Kinship
  • Kinship terminologies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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