Cultural niche construction in a metapopulation

Elhanan Borenstein*, Jeremy Kendal, Marcus Feldman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cultural niche construction is the process by which certain evolving cultural traits form a cultural niche that affects the evolution of other genetic and cultural traits [Laland, K., et al., 2001. Cultural niche construction and human evolution. J. Evol. Biol. 14, 22-33; Ihara, Y., Feldman, M., 2004. Cultural niche construction and the evolution of small family size. Theor. Popul. Biol. 65, 105-111]. In this study we focus on cultural niche construction in a metapopulation (a population of populations), where the frequency of one cultural trait (e.g. the level of education) determines the transmission rate of a second trait (e.g. the adoption of fertility reduction preferences) within and between populations. We formulate the Metapopulation Cultural Niche Construction (MPCNC) model by defining the cultural niche induced by the first trait as the construction of a social interaction network on which the second trait may percolate. Analysis of the model reveals dynamics that are markedly different from those observed in a single population, allowing, for example, different (or even opposing) dynamics in each population. In particular, this model can account for the puzzling phenomenon reported in previous studies [Bongaarts, J., Watkins, S., 1996. Social interactions and contemporary fertility transitions. Popul. Dev. Rev. 22 (4), 639-682] that the onset of the demographic transition in different countries occurred at ever lower levels of development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-104
Number of pages13
JournalTheoretical Population Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 2006


FundersFunder number
Yeshaya Horowitz Association
National Institutes of Health
National Institute of General Medical SciencesR01GM028016


    • Cultural background
    • Cultural evolution
    • Demographic transition
    • Metapopulation
    • Niche construction


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