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Engagement in agricultural work is associated with reduced leisure time among Agta hunter-gatherers

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A long-standing hypothesis suggests that the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture results in people working harder, spending more time engaged in subsistence activities and having less leisure time1,2. However, tests of this hypothesis are obscured by comparing between populations that vary in ecology and social organization, as well as subsistence3–6. Here we test this hypothesis by examining adult time allocation among the Agta—a population of small-scale hunter-gatherers from the northern Philippines who are increasingly engaged in agriculture and other non-foraging work. We find that individuals in camps engaging more in non-foraging work spend more time involved in out-of-camp work and have substantially less leisure time. This difference is largely driven by changes in the time allocation of women, who spend substantially more time engaged in out-of-camp work in more agricultural camps. Our results support the hypothesis that hunting and gathering allows a significant amount of leisure time, and that this is lost as communities adopt small-scale agriculture.
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Letters
https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-019-0614-6
1Jesus College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. 2Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. 3Department of Population
Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK. 4Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol,
UK. 5Department of Anthropology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland. *e-mail: md479@cam.ac.uk
A long-standing hypothesis suggests that the transition
from hunting and gathering to agriculture results in people
working harder, spending more time engaged in subsistence
activities and having less leisure time1,2. However, tests of
this hypothesis are obscured by comparing between popula-
tions that vary in ecology and social organization, as well as
subsistence36. Here we test this hypothesis by examining
adult time allocation among the Agta—a population of small-
scale hunter-gatherers from the northern Philippines who are
increasingly engaged in agriculture and other non-foraging
work. We find that individuals in camps engaging more in
non-foraging work spend more time involved in out-of-camp
work and have substantially less leisure time. This difference
is largely driven by changes in the time allocation of women,
who spend substantially more time engaged in out-of-camp
work in more agricultural camps. Our results support the
hypothesis that hunting and gathering allows a significant
amount of leisure time, and that this is lost as communities
adopt small-scale agriculture.
Agriculture emerged independently in multiple locations world-
wide from around 12,500 years , and by circa 5,000 years  had
replaced hunting and gathering as the dominant mode of human
subsistence7,8. The transition from foraging to farming is associated
with population growth, sedentism and the emergence of increas-
ingly hierarchical political structures6,7. For individuals, the adoption
of farming has been associated with an increase in fertility9,10 and
a decline in dietary breadth and overall health11,12. Although the
transition from foraging to farming could be readily explained if
early farming were more productive than foraging, estimates sug-
gest that this may not have been the case2, and alternative hypoth-
eses based on environmental, social and demographic parameters
have been proposed13,14.
It has also been suggested that the transition from foraging to
farming results in people working harder, having less leisure time
and being less productive per hour worked2. On the basis of data
from contemporary hunter-gatherer societies, Sahlins1 argued that
hunter-gatherers represent the ‘original affluent society’ who, despite
a lack of material wealth, have a livelihood that allows them to work
only 2–4 h per day. Although this claim challenged the assumption
that the foraging-to-farming transition represented an escape from
an arduous foraging lifestyle, subsequent studies have found that
there is substantial variation among foraging and farming popula-
tions in how much they work36,15, that many hunter-gatherers face
substantial annual fluctuations in food availability6, and that many
foraged foods require a substantial amount of time to process once
brought back to camp16. Given this diversity, comparisons between
populations are limited in their ability to isolate the effect of adopt-
ing agriculture on time allocation.
Here, we examine variation in time budgets within a single popu-
lation—the Agta, a community of small-scale politically egalitarian
hunter-gatherers from the northern Philippines who are increas-
ingly engaged in agriculture and other non-foraging work9,1719. The
Agta live in small camps of fluid membership, within which indi-
viduals cooperate extensively in foraging and food sharing20, and
where ~50% of adults are distantly related or unrelated by kinship21.
We conducted quantitative ethnographic fieldwork with the Agta in
2013 and 2014, collecting data on the time allocation of 359 people
across 10 camps (including 71 adult men and 71 adult women;
>18 years). Time-allocation data were collected through observa-
tional scans. We conducted four scans each day during daylight
hours, with the first scan between 06:30 and 09:00 in the morning
and three more at three-hour intervals. In each scan, we recorded
the activity of all members of the community, grouping activities
into four main categories: childcare, domestic chores, leisure and
out-of-camp work (Supplementary Table 1 and Supplementary
Figs.1 and 2; see Methods for further details). This resulted in a
total of 10,706 person-observations. Out-of-camp work was divided
into two categories: foraging and non-foraging work. Foraging
work consisted of fishing, gathering, honey collecting and hunting.
Although the majority of out-of-camp, non-foraging work con-
sisted of agricultural labour, this category also included activities
such as the collection of non-food items (such as rattan cane) to
sell (see Supplementary Table1 for activity frequencies by category).
Leisure time included socializing, resting, playing and sleeping. Of
adult leisure time (n = 1,491 observations), 71.9% was spent in close
proximity to at least one other adult. Of this time, adults were in
close proximity to an average of 2.20 other adults (s.d. = 2.23). There
was no sex difference in the mean number of these social interac-
tions (men: n = 546 observations; mean = 2.28; s.d. = 1.92; women:
n = 526 observations; mean = 2.13; s.d. = 1.64; P = 0.11; two-tailed
permutation test), and 49% of interactions between adults were with
individuals unrelated through either genetic or affinal kinship.
By comparing across Agta camps that vary in their relative
engagement in foraging versus non-foraging out-of-camp work, we
are able to explore the association between changing livelihoods and
time allocation. We show that across Agta camps, increased engage-
ment in non-foraging out-of-camp work is associated with increased
total out-of-camp work and reduced leisure time, and that there is a
Engagement in agricultural work is associated
with reduced leisure time among Agta
hunter-gatherers
Mark Dyble 1,2*, Jack Thorley1,2, Abigail E. Page3, Daniel Smith 4 and Andrea Bamberg Migliano5
NATURE HUMAN BEHAVIOUR | VOL 3 | AUGUST 2019 | 792–796 | www.nature.com/nathumbehav
792
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... In addition to the specific variables included in each model to assess the effect of environment, ecological risk, and gendered division of food production labour on children's time allocation, all statistical analyses adjusted for the proportion of non-foraged foods consumed in each society. This is because previous studies have found that reliance on domesticated plants and animals is positively correlated with children's time allocation to economic activities 57,84,85 . In what follows, we only discuss results pertaining to Models 3-5. ...
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