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Comparative perspectives on social inequalities in life and death: an interdisciplinary conference

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Lucy Lloyd.

This conference is organised by St John’s College Reading Group on Health Inequalities

The purpose of the conference is to widen our interdisciplinary approach to understanding inequalities in human health, through dialogue with ethologists. Ethology is the scientific and objective study of animal behaviour, usually with a focus on behaviour under natural conditions, and viewing behaviour as an evolutionarily adaptive trait.

There is strong evidence that position in the social hierarchy in humans is closely related to health and disease risk. The result is a social gradient in health—worse health the lower the social position. Yet social hierarchies, sustained across generations, are widespread among mammals and in evolutionary terms can be understood as offering advantage to the group as a whole, if not equally to all its members. Within the group, behaviour of individuals can vary between co-operative or competitive, and can affect reproductive success. A central form of cooperative behaviour is caregiving, the nature of which is a powerful predictor of later social and health outcomes in humans and other primates.

We present an interdisciplinary programme informing understandings of inequalities in health by drawing on new data from other social mammals, particularly non-human primates. The programme addresses the ways in which human and animal studies seem to proceed in parallel, with each side knowing little about the work of the other, and brings them together.

The programme moves from the consideration of the persistence of inequalities in human health, the relevance of social context, and mechanisms that sustain social position across both time and generations, to a consideration of fitness in other social mammals and aspects of resilience in unstable environments. In the afternoon, we take examples of free-living baboons in Botswana, and captive colonies of macaques in Bethesda, to consider social and epigenetic mechanisms maintaining social hierarchy and relationship across generations.

In a presentation in honour of Robert Hinde, we end with a Public Lecture drawing on the exceptional body of work of our keynote speakers in understanding a particular interest of Robert’s; the extent to which human differences in behaviour and relationship represent adaptations to the worlds in which children grow up.

Find out more about this conference. The registration page will be posted here shortly.

Please contact Glynis Moore if you have queries about this conference.

This talk is part of the Primary Care series.

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