On market forces and human evolution

Gilles Saint-Paul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper studies how an institution such as markets affects the evolution of mankind. My key point is that the forces of natural selection are made weaker because trade allows people to specialize in those activities where they are strong, and to offset their weaknesses by purchasing adequate goods on the market. Absent trade, people must allocate their time among all the activities necessary for their fitness. A productivity advantage in any given dimension will increase survival probability, so that in the long run natural selection makes sure that population is entirely made of individuals with the strongest alleles at all loci. Under trade, there exist long-run equilibria where weaker individuals are able to achieve the same survival potential as the fittest, by specializing in activities where they are not at a disadvantage, and purchasing goods that are substitute for activities for which they are weak.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)397-412
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 7 2007


  • Division of labor
  • Evolution
  • Exchange
  • Gene-culture coevolution
  • Genotype
  • Markets
  • Natural selection
  • Specialization
  • Time allocation
  • Trade

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Applied Mathematics


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