Kramer, Karen L. 2010. “Cooperative Breeding and Its Significance to the Demographic Success of Humans.” Annual Review of Anthropology. Vol.39, pp.417.
Cooperative breeding refers to the parenting and social system in which people other than the immediate parents help support the offspring. This concept originally came from researchers studying certain bird species, insects , and mammals. A lot of bird species and mammals acquire help only when other females in the group are ready to reproduce, because of mates and territories. Human mothers do not have to worry about reproductive suppression because they do not have to compete and they get help from 2 classes of helpers in which Kramer calls juveniles and grandmothers. Cooperative breeding in humans is successful also because of the food sharing network that we have. Both sexes of all ages help with food sharing which makes it less stressful for the parents .
Humans are weaned when they are young and they reach maturity much later than other animals. Primates on the other hand are weaned and released to feed themselves once they are juveniles. This can lead to a lot of problems but in humans throughout our juvenile years we are still sheltered, clothed, and fed which ensures our survival. Unlike other animals humans do not have litters of children or large amounts at one time. Some species have this advantage and it allows them to give all of their young the same care where as the disadvantage of for humans is the child care. If a mother has an infant, two six year old’s and a 16 year old they all require a different kind of care, time, and energy. This is where the help comes in from the support system that humans have.
In animals male child care is almost unheard of except for a few species who practice cooperative breeding. In humans studies have shown that males assists very little in child care, but they help in a large amount of the economic contribution and food. Males are said to help even less if the grandmother is involved and if the mother has a daughter old enough to assist her in the child care. Grandmothers and other juveniles are key to the support structure in cooperative breeding. Grandparents often live close to the parents and allow the parents to be relieved of certain child care duties. Juveniles often siblings help with numerous child caring tasks such as feeding, watching, and helping developing the young.
The demographic success is that humans are more likely to survive until they are ready to reproduce, because of the quality/quantity trade-off that they get from the helpers. If different species could adapt this method of child care then there would be less endangered species. Overall the cooperative breeding is characterized by the diverse social and economic interactions we see in human behavior.