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Nothing else matters: evolution of preference for social prestige

Zakharenko, Roman (2012): Nothing else matters: evolution of preference for social prestige.

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Abstract

This paper seeks answers to two questions. First, if a greater social activity of an individual enhances oblique (i.e. to non-relatives) transmission of her cultural traits, but reduces their vertical (i.e. to children) transmission as well as family size, which behavior is optimal from cultural evolution standpoint? I formalize a general model that characterizes evolutionarily stable behaviors. The proposed model replicates the theory of Newson et al. (2007) that fertility decline is caused by increasing role of oblique cultural transmission. Second, if social activity is a rational choice rather than culturally inherited trait, and if cultural transmission acts on preferences rather than decisions, which preferences survive the process of cultural evolution? I arrive at a very simple yet powerful result: under mild assumptions on model structure, only preferences which emphasize exclusively the concern for social prestige, i.e. extent to which one’s cultural trait has been picked up by others, survive.

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