The Evolution of Economic Behaviour

  • David McFarland


The biological bases of economics include all those biological factors that influence the economic behaviour of individual animals. Humans are animals, and another way of addressing the subject is to ask — what are the fundamental biological factors that influence microeconomic behaviour? We need to start with some fundamental biological concepts, because human behaviour, including economic behaviour, is the product of evolutionary pressures that are the result of natural selection, whether they be cultural or genetic. Any student of economic behaviour should consider whether, and to what extent, such influences are important, because it is possible that the homunculus within current economic theory may be too simple, and not truly representative of the behaviour of ordinary people. In this book we will be exploring an array of biological phenomena, and inviting the student of economics to consider to what extent they are relevant to the modern economic situation.


Natural Selection Economic Behaviour Biological Base Reciprocal Exchange Reciprocal Altruism 
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Further reading

  1. Cohen, M.N. (1989) Health and the Rise of Civilization. Yale University Press, New Haven.Google Scholar
  2. Diamond, Jared (1998) Guns, Germs and Steel. Vintage, London.Google Scholar
  3. Harris, M. (1985) Culture, People, Nature, 4th edn. Harper and Row, New York.Google Scholar
  4. Richardson, P.J. and Boyd, R. (2005) Not by Genes Alone. How Culture Transformed Human Evolution. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
  5. Robson, A.J. and Kaplan, H. (2003) The evolution of human life expectancy and intelligence in hunter-gatherer economies. Am. Econ. Rev., 93(1), 150–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Sahlins, M. (1974) Stone Age Economics. Tavistock Publications, London.Google Scholar
  7. Trivers, R. (1971) The evolution of reciprocal altruism. Quart. Rev. Biol., 46, 35–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Essential reading

  1. Gaudy, John (1999) Hunter-gatherers and the mythology of the market. In Lee, R. and Daly, R. (eds) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David McFarland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • David McFarland
    • 1
  1. 1.Balliol CollegeUniversity of OxfordUK

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