Hermit Crabs May Offer Insights Into Wealth Inequality

Hermit crabs can teach us about wealth inequality, according to a new study.

The distribution of the empty snail shells in which hermit crabs live was surprisingly similar to the distribution of wealth in human societies, the research finds.

“Although people and hermit crabs are unlike in many ways, there is one big similarity: humans and hermit crabs both have possessions,” says lead author Ivan Chase, professor emeritus of sociology at Stony Brook University.

“Hermit crabs have soft abdomens and so they must live in and carry around empty snail shells as protection against predators. Hermit crabs grow throughout their lives and periodically they must find new and larger snail shells.”

The researchers took a sample of nearly 300 hermit crabs, removing them gently from their shells, and measuring the weights of those shells to make their discovery.

The team used a measure called the Gini coefficient to calculate the amount of inequality in the crabs and found it was similar to that in small-scale human societies such as hunter-gatherers and ancient farming communities.

“The forces that produce wealth inequality in humans are much more complex,” Chase says.


 Get The Latest From InnerSelf


He believes, however, that by observing and documenting hermit crab activity with shell distribution and redistribution, we may gain insights into wealth inequality, and the crabs themselves could serve as a model organism to study this complex and difficult problem in human society.

“Our research provides a a reference point, a kind of a baseline to help us look at our own inequality. It demonstrates that inequality is natural—at least in a certain way of speaking—and that it can exist even in a species that is very different from us, a species that doesn’t have an economy, that doesn’t have culture, and—as much as I might like them—one that is not nearly as smart as we are,” Chase says.

“However, I think that our research also suggests that the extreme level of inequality that we see all around us is probably something unique, something that is only found in large-scale human societies of the sort that most of us live in today.”

The study appears in Physica A.

Original Study

About the Author

Lead author Ivan Chase is a professor emeritus of sociology at Stony Brook University.

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfifrdehiiditjakomsnofaptruessvtrvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

FROM THE EDITORS

Why Donald Trump Could Be History's Biggest Loser
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
Updated July 2, 20020 - This whole coronavirus pandemic is costing a fortune, maybe 2 or 3 or 4 fortunes, all of unknown size. Oh yeah, and, hundreds of thousands, maybe a million, of people will die…
Blue-Eyes vs Brown Eyes: How Racism is Taught
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf
In this 1992 Oprah Show episode, award-winning anti-racism activist and educator Jane Elliott taught the audience a tough lesson about racism by demonstrating just how easy it is to learn prejudice.
A Change Is Gonna Come...
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf
(May 30, 2020) As I watch the news on the events in Philadephia and other cities in the country, my heart aches for what is transpiring. I know that this is part of the greater change that is taking…
A Song Can Uplift the Heart and Soul
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf
I have several ways that I use to clear the darkness from my mind when I find it has crept in. One is gardening, or spending time in nature. The other is silence. Another way is reading. And one that…
Mascot for the Pandemic and Theme Song for Social Distancing and Isolation
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf
I came across a song recently and as I listened to the lyrics, I thought it would be a perfect song as a "theme song" for these times of social isolation. (Lyrics below the video.)