Dr. Magdalena Hurtado


Magdalena Hurtado is known for theoretical and empirical research on the evolutionary origins of the sexual division of labor, human life history traits including menopause, paternal investment, infectious disease patterns among tribal populations, and the emergence of modern diseases such as childhood asthma. Especially known for empirical work on women in remote hunter-gatherer populations and co-authored book Ache Life History. Most recently, worked on the evolutionary emergence of cooperative public health behaviors as a key human adaptation. First to use indifference curve models to describe the tradeoffs that women face between childcare and subsistence work and to show with field data from hunter-gatherers that in our species women’s subsistence activities are probably always constrained by the age and number of their offspring and the productivity of their husbands. Described detailed age specific infection patterns of a tuberculosis epidemic in a group of hunter-gatherers, with extremely high prevalence, who had never been exposed to this mycobacterium, and published a review of South American indigenous health research with an emphasis on the high susceptibility to infectious diseases such as helminthiasis, hepatitis A-E, and HTLY-I and II. Published data on the prevalence of asthma among different Hispanic subgroups in the United States, and developed a biocultural hypothesis to account for these differences, as well as a theory of mast-cell saturation and Th2 dominance that helps explain the emergence of asthma in modern populations. Work has expanded to Panamanian populations to study the origins of public health using models in evolutionary social psychology. Basic science research dovetails applied work in the areas of health and conservation. Advocate for increased public health services aimed at disadvantaged native populations. Designed and implemented grassroots health care worker and conservation programs that resulted in rapid declines in rates of preventable deaths and land titles to ancestral territories in native communities of Paraguay and Venezuela.


HBES 2021 Plenary Address:

The Human Colony: Origins and Function