Fishing and the sexual division of labor among the Meriam

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Do men and women forage differently because they are cooperatively responding to children's requirements for care or because they are differentially sensitive to variance? In this article, I examine how care trade-offs and variance contribute to gender differences in fishing strategies among Torres Strait Islanders (Meriam). Women's fishing had lower failure rates, coefficients of variation, and frequencies of sharing than men's fishing. Men and women responded to trade-offs between mean and variance differently: Women spent less time on high mean-high variance activities, men less time on high mean-low variance activities. Although child-care trade-offs affected time allocation to different fishing activities among women, they did not affect differences in time allocation between the sexes. These results support previous work implicating variance and sharing frequency as important resource currencies shaping gender differences in subsistence decisions, and they offer challenges to a general model of the division of labor predicated on economic notions of specialization as increasing production efficiency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)442-451
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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