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date: 21 November 2018

Abstract and Keywords

Mothers face a novel situation compared to other human roles. While there are benefits in cooperating with others for shared resources, there are simultaneously benefits in competing for one’s own gains. Moreover, infants pose unique challenges to mothers, requiring extended provisioning and protection. Women cooperate and support each other to benefit the group and in particular their children; however, mothers may benefit from competing for limited resources that directly impact on them and their children and, hence, engage in indirect reproductive competition. The quandary for mothers becomes whether they should cooperate or compete with other mothers, especially when resources related to reproduction and child care are in limited supply. We review literature on cooperative breeding and allomothering, present literature on women’s reproductive competition, and explore limitations on investigating cooperation or competition. We then bring cooperation and competition together and address how mothers follow both strategies, concluding with suggestions for future work.

Keywords: mothers, social support, division of labor, cooperation, competition, child care, human evolution

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