Farmers have less leisure time than hunter-gatherers, study suggests

Hunter-gatherers in the Philippines who convert to farming work around 10 hours a week longer than their forager neighbours, a new study by Cambridge University suggests.

For two years, a team including University of Cambridge anthropologist Dr. Mark Dyble, lived with the Agta, a population of small scale hunter-gatherers from the northern Philippines who are increasingly engaging in agriculture.

Every day, at regular intervals between 6:00am and 6:00pm, the researchers recorded what their hosts were doing.

By repeating this in 10 different communities, they calculated how 359 people divided their time between leisure, childcare, domestic chores and out-of-camp work.

While some Agta communities engage exclusively in hunting and gathering, others divide their time between foraging and rice farming.

Findings

The study, published today in Nature Human Behaviour, reveals that increased engagement in farming and other non-foraging work resulted in the Agta working harder and losing leisure time.

On average, the team estimated that Agta engaged primarily in farming work around 30 hours per week while foragers only do so for 20 hours.

They found that this dramatic difference was largely due to women being drawn away from domestic activities to working in the fields. The study found that women living in the communities most involved in farming had half as much leisure time as those in communities which only foraged.

There was also a sexual division of labour with women spending less time working out-of-camp, and more time engaged in domestic chores and childcare than men, even though men and women had a similar amount of leisure time.

Co-author, Dr. Abigail Page, an anthropologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, added: “We have to be really cautious when extrapolating from contemporary hunter-gatherers to different societies in pre-history.

But if the first farmers really did work harder than foragers then this begs an important question – why did humans adopt agriculture?

Previous studies, including one on the Agta, have variously linked the adoption of farming to increases in fertility, population growth and productivity, as well as the emergence of increasingly hierarchical political structures.