Many human societies and communities exhibit pronounced wealth inequality. When considering the possible determinants of this inequality, one possibility is that people leverage advantageous positions in their social networks to buffer economic risks and realize greater accruals of wealth over time. In community networks, for instance, it may be beneficial to be a connection between otherwise unconnected subgroups, where the ability to influence the flow of resources and information can be profitable. Alternatively, it may be advantageous to maintain connections to individuals and groups who themselves have few connections, entailing dependencies that can be exploited.

The ENDOW project investigates the dynamics of social networks and wealth inequality in small communities around the world. Located primarily in rural settings, these communities are often undergoing substantial changes while adapting to economic, political, and environmental perturbations. Members of the project typically have extensive ethnographic experience in their respective communities, enabling them to adapt the project’s standardized methods to their study sites. The goal of the project is to characterize the salient social and economic networks in the communities in order to test the effects of network structure on wealth. Alongside these measures, team members collect data on educational attainment, household demographics, kinship, status, and other variables that potentially reflect alternative explanations for the dynamics we observe. We are gathering data longitudinally in order to gain insights about the temporal relationships among the variables that are used to test the hypotheses.

We are undertaking a number of constituent projects that will explore various aspects of these dynamics within and across communities, and the richness of the data we are gathering means that there are multiple opportunities to tackle additional questions, beyond those that we originally posed. Look to this space for further description of the many projects that we are tackling.

The ENDOW project builds on earlier collaborative efforts also looking at the inequality, first in relation to the intergenerational transmission of wealth (see the paper in Science and the special issue of Current Anthropology) and second in relation to polygyny (see the paper in Royal Society Interface).