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.

Engagement in agricultural work is associated with reduced leisure time among Agta hunter-gatherers


A long-standing hypothesis suggests that the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture results in people working harder, spending more time engaged in subsistence activities and having less leisure time1,2. However, tests of this hypothesis are obscured by comparing between populations that vary in ecology and social organization, as well as subsistence3,4,5,6. Here we test this hypothesis by examining adult time allocation among the Agta—a population of small-scale hunter-gatherers from the northern Philippines who are increasingly engaged in agriculture and other non-foraging work. We find that individuals in camps engaging more in non-foraging work spend more time involved in out-of-camp work and have substantially less leisure time. This difference is largely driven by changes in the time allocation of women, who spend substantially more time engaged in out-of-camp work in more agricultural camps. Our results support the hypothesis that hunting and gathering allows a significant amount of leisure time, and that this is lost as communities adopt small-scale agriculture.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: Age and sex differences in time allocation.
Fig. 2: Differences in time allocation between camps and between adults with and without young children.

Data availability

The individual-level data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. Any further work on the data depends on community approval.

Code availability

The code used to analyse the relevant data is provided as Supplementary Software.


  1. Sahlins, M. Stone Age Economics (Aldine, 1973).

  2. Bowles, S. Cultivation of cereals by the first farmers was not more productive than foraging. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 4760–4765 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Hill, K., Kaplan, H., Hawkes, K. & Hurtado, A. M. Men’s time allocation to subsistence work among the Ache of Eastern Paraguay. Hum. Ecol. 13, 29–47 (1985).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Lee, R. B. The !Kung San (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1979).

  5. Hames, R. Time, efficiency, and fitness in the Amazonian protein quest. Res. Econ. Anthropol. 11, 43–85 (1989).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Kelly, R. The Lifeways of Hunter-gatherers: The Foraging Spectrum (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

  7. Barker, G. The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory: Why did Foragers Become Farmers? (Oxford Univ. Press, 2006).

  8. Diamond, J. & Bellwood, P. Farmers and their languages: the first expansions. Science 300, 597–603 (2003).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Page, A. E. et al. Reproductive trade-offs in extant hunter-gatherers suggest adaptive mechanism for the Neolithic expansion. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 113, 4694–4699 (2016).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Bentley, G. R., Jasienska, G. & Goldberg, T. Is the fertility of agriculturalists higher than that of nonagriculturalists? Curr. Anthropol. 34, 778–785 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Starling, A. P. & Stock, J. T. Dental indicators of health and stress in early Egyptian and Nubian agriculturalists: a difficult transition and gradual recovery. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 134, 520–528 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Armelagos, G. J. & Cohen, M. N. Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture (Academic Press, 1984).

  13. Gallagher, E. M., Shennan, S. J. & Thomas, M. G. Transition to farming more likely for small, conservative groups with property rights, but increased productivity is not essential. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 14218–14223 (2015).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Bowles, S. & Choi, J.-K. Coevolution of farming and private property during the early Holocene. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 8830–8835 (2013).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Hawkes, K., Kaplan, H., Hill, K. & Hurtado, A. M. Ache at the settlement: contrasts between farming and foraging. Hum. Ecol. 15, 133–161 (1987).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Hawkes, K. & O’Connell, J. F. Affluent hunters? Some comments in light of the Alyawara case. Am. Anthropol. 83, 622–626 (1981).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Rai, N. K. Living in a Lean-to: Philippine Negrito Foragers in Transition (Univ. Michigan Press, 1990).

  18. Minter, T. The Agta of the Northern Sierra Madre (Lieden Univ., 2008).

  19. Griffin, P. & Estioko-Griffin, A. The Agta of Northeastern Luzon: Recent Studies (Univ. San Carlos Publications, 1985).

  20. Dyble, M. et al. Networks of food sharing reveal the functional significance of multilevel sociality in two hunter-gatherer groups. Curr. Biol. 26, 2017–2021 (2016).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Dyble, M. et al. Sex equality can explain the unique social structure of hunter-gatherer bands. Science 348, 796–798 (2015).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Bürkner, P.-C. Advanced Bayesian multilevel modeling with the R package brms. R. J. 10, 395–411 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Koster, J. & McElreath, R. Multinomial analysis of behavior: statistical methods. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 71, 138 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Bird-David, N. Beyond “the original affluent society” a culturalist reformulation. Curr. Anthropol. 33, 25–47 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Page, A. E., Minter, T., Viguier, S. & Migliano, A. B. Hunter-gatherer health and development policy: how the promotion of sedentism worsens the Agta’s health outcomes. Soc. Sci. Med. 197, 39–48 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Marlowe, F. W. A critical period for provisioning by Hadza men. Evol. Hum. Behav. 24, 217–229 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. McElreath, R. & Koster, J. Using multilevel models to estimate variation in foraging returns. Effects of failure rate, harvest size, age, and individual heterogeneity. Hum. Nat. 25, 100–120 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Dunbar, R. I. M., Korstjens, A. H. & Lehmann, J. Time as an ecological constraint. Biol. Rev. Camb. Phil. Soc. 84, 413–429 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. Hart, J. A. From subsistence to market: a case study of the Mbuti net hunters. Hum. Ecol. 6, 325–353 (1978).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Headland, T. N. The wild yam question: how well could independent hunter-gatherers live in a tropical rain forest ecosystem? Hum. Ecol. 15, 463–491 (1987).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Kaplan, H. et al. A theory of human life history evolution: diet, intelligence, and longevity. Evol. Anthropol. 9, 156–185 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Boyd, R., Richerson, P. J. & Henrich, J. The cultural niche: why social learning is essential for human adaptation. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 10918–10925 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  33. Apicella, C. L., Marlowe, F. W., Fowler, J. H. & Christakis, N. A. Social networks and cooperation in hunter-gatherers. Nature 481, 497–501 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  34. Smith, D. et al. A friend in need is a friend indeed: need-based sharing, rather than cooperative assortment, predicts experimental resource transfers among Agta hunter-gatherers. Evol. Hum. Behav. 40, 82–89 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Dyble, M., Gardner, A., Vinicius, L. & Migliano, A. B. Inclusive fitness for in-laws. Biol. Lett. 14, 20180515 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Diekmann, Y. et al. Accurate age estimation in small-scale societies. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, 8205–8210 (2017).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank R. K. Schlaepfer, K. Major, S. Viguier and the Curampez family for assistance in the field, C. Duncan and D. Rubenstein for comments on the manuscript, and the Agta and Paranan communities for their hospitality. This project was funded by Leverhulme Trust grant RP2011-R-045 to A.B.M. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



M.D. conceived of the study and wrote the manuscript. M.D. and J.T. analysed the data. M.D., A.E.P., D.S. and A.B.M. collected the data. All authors discussed the results and contributed towards improving the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mark Dyble.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–6 and Supplementary Tables 1–4.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Software

R code used to analyse Agta time budget data.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Dyble, M., Thorley, J., Page, A.E. et al. Engagement in agricultural work is associated with reduced leisure time among Agta hunter-gatherers. Nat Hum Behav 3, 792–796 (2019).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


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