hunter gatherer 'cave people' evolution concept
Sean Cate
Sean Cate
June 7, 2024 ·  3 min read

Hunter-Gatherer Societies May Have Had Many Caregivers For Children- Two Parents Weren’t Enough

Hunter-gatherer communities offer insights into child-rearing practices that challenge conventional ideas. Recent studies exploring these societies suggest children might thrive under more extensive caregiving networks than the nuclear family model with two parents.

Studies led by Dr. Nikhil Chaudhary, an evolutionary anthropologist at Cambridge University, reveal that infants in contemporary hunter-gatherer societies experience roughly nine hours of care daily from multiple caregivers, expanding well beyond biological parents.1

The Mbendjele BaYaka in the Republic of Congo serve as a case study, displaying a network of 10 to 20 caregivers per child. This attentive care extends to responding promptly to infants’ cries, often in under 25 seconds, with various individuals, not just the biological mother, providing comfort.2

Reassessing The Modern Two Parents Method

This research challenges the traditional two-parent family system prevalent in Western societies. The findings hint that a child’s psychological well-being may depend on more extensive caregiver involvement, contradicting the limitations of the nuclear family model. However, it is important to note the study did not suggest dismissing the nuclear family structure but rather emphasized the benefits of diversified caregiving systems for optimal child development.

Studies stress that the support system witnessed in these communities is a far cry from the isolation often experienced by the popular model with two parents, urging for reevaluating childcare practices in contemporary societies.

Implications Against Contemporary Childcare with Two Parents

Contemporary Western childcare models may benefit from emulating the communal support observed in hunter-gatherer societies. Providing increased access to affordable, high-quality childcare that prioritizes personal attention and consistency could benefit parents and children.

Understanding and implementing diverse caregiving networks beyond the two-parent nuclear family structure might offer solutions to the parenting challenges faced today.

Insights from hunter-gatherer societies highlight the significance of communal caregiving for children’s well-being. Acknowledging the effectiveness of diverse caregiver networks beyond the nuclear family could offer a fresh perspective on modern parenting paradigms.

As Dr. Chaudhary emphasizes, “We need to work together to ensure mothers and children receive the support and care they need to thrive” – a sentiment echoed by the research’s call for a shift in childcare policies and societal attitudes.

Read: Oldest DNA in America Traced Back to Montana Man

Evolutionary Insights from Hunter-Gatherer Societies

Exploring the roots of caregiving through the lens of contemporary hunter-gatherer societies offers valuable insights into our evolutionary past and the flexibility of human parenting strategies.

Studies led by Dr. Chaudhary underscore the adaptability of human parenting styles across our evolutionary history. The Mbendjele BaYaka communities exemplify a system where infants experience responsive care from many caregivers, ensuring swift responses to their needs.

This extensive caregiving model aligns with the notion that our evolutionary past involved communal childcare arrangements. This contrasts starkly with the isolated response typically observed in Western societies, where parents often bear the primary responsibility for comforting a distressed child.

The two-parent nuclear family system predominant in many Western cultures falls short in offering the multifaceted support observed in hunter-gatherer societies. This disparity raises concerns about the psychological well-being of both parents and children in contemporary settings.

While modern parents often navigate childcare challenges in isolation, the research suggests that communal caregiving not only eases the burden on parents but also significantly contributes to children’s development.

A Call for Societal Shifts in Support Structures

The findings prompt a reevaluation of contemporary childcare policies and practices. Incorporating elements of communal support observed in hunter-gatherer societies might address the strain experienced by modern parents and enhance child well-being.

Dr. Chaudhary emphasizes the need for collective action, stating, “As a society, from policymakers to employers to healthcare services, we need to work together to ensure mothers and children receive the support and care they need to thrive.”

The childcare systems observed in hunter-gatherer societies underscore the significance of communal caregiving networks in nurturing children. These insights challenge conventional parenting paradigms and advocate for a more holistic approach to childcare in modern societies.

Keep Reading: If a Tendon Raises Up When You Touch Your Pinky to Your Thumb, Here’s What It Could Mean


  1. Hunter-gatherer approach to childcare suggests that the key to mother and child well-being may be many caregivers.” Phys. University of Cambridge.
  2. Children May Be ‘Evolutionarily Primed’ to Need More Than 2 Parents.” Science Alert. Carly Cassella. November 19, 2023.