Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

The cultural wealth of nations

Why, when the human race shows comparatively little genetic variation, are cultural differences so widespread and enduring? Thinking about cultures in terms of biological species provides some provocative answers.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Language, mammals and Rapaport's rule.
Figure 2: Genes and language in Europe.


  1. Harris, M. Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches: The Riddles of Culture (Vintage, New York, reissue edn, 1989).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Renfrew, C. Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins (Penguin, London, 1987).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Diamond, J. & Bellwood, P. Science 300, 597–603 (2003).

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Kaessmann, H., Wiebe, V. & Pääbo, S. Science 286, 1159–1162 (1999).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Kaessmann, H., Heissig, F., von Haeseler, A. & Pääbo, S. Nature Genet. 22, 78 (1999).

  6. Wurm, S. in Atlas of the World's Languages (eds Moseley, C. & Asher, R. E.) 93–158 (Routledge, London, 1994).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Birdsell, J. B. Am. Nat. 87, 171–207 (1953).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Nichols, J. Evol. Anthropol. 3, 206–215 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Rapaport, E. H. Science 201, 679–686 (1982).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Mace, R. & Pagel, M. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 261, 117–121 (1995).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Pagel, M. D., May, R. M. & Collie, A. Am. Nat. 137, 791–815 (1991).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Pagel, M. in The Evolutionary Emergence of Language (eds Knight, C., Studdert-Kennedy, M. & Hurford, J.) 391–416 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  13. Moore, J. L. et al. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 269, 1645–1653 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Cavalli-Sforza, L. L., Piazza, A., Menozzi, P. & Mountain, J. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 85, 6002–6006 (1988).

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  15. Sokal, R. R. et al. Am. Nat. 135, 157–175 (1990).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Barbujani, G. & Sokal, R. R. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 87, 1816–1819 (1990).

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  17. Womble, W. H. Science 114, 315–322 (1951).

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Rosser, Z. H. et al. Am. J. Hum. Genet. 67, 1526–1543 (2000).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  19. Dent, S. The Language Report (Oxford Univ. Press, 2003).

  20. Mantel, N. Cancer Res. 27, 209–220 (1967).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Guglielmino, C. R., Viganotti, C., Hewlett, B. & Cavalli-Sforza, L. L. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 92, 7585–7589 (1995).

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  22. Holden, C. & Mace, R. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 10, 27–45 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Hamilton, W. H. in ASA Studies 4: Biosocial Anthropology (ed. Fox, R.) 133–153 (Malaby, London, 1975).

    Google Scholar 

  24. Fehr, E. & Fischbacher, U. Nature 425, 785–791 (2003).

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Gintis, H., Bowles, S., Boyd, R. & Fehr, E. Evol. Hum. Behav. 24, 153–172 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Kierkegaard, S. Concluding Unscientific PostScript to Philosophical Fragments, 1846 (transl. Hong, H. V. & Hong, E. H.; Princeton Univ. Press, 1992).

    Google Scholar 

  27. Durham, W. H. Coevolution: Genes, Culture and Human Diversity (Stanford Univ. Press, 1991).

    Google Scholar 

  28. Cavalli-Sforza, L. L. & Feldman, M. W. Cultural Transmission and Evolution: A Quantitative Approach (Princeton Univ. Press, 1981).

    MATH  Google Scholar 

  29. Ruhlen, M. A Guide to the World's Languages Vol. 1 Classification (Arnold, London, 1991).

  30. Mace, R. & Pagel, M. Curr. Anthropol. 35, 549–564 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Pagel, M. in Time-Depth in Historical Linguistics (eds Renfrew, C., MacMahon, A. & Trask, L.) 189–207 (McDonald Inst. Archaeology, Cambridge, 2000).

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Pagel, M., Mace, R. The cultural wealth of nations. Nature 428, 275–278 (2004).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing