Classification of Subsistence Types

This section explains how the subsistence types for eHRAF were established.

The information on the major form of subsistence for cultures in the eHRAF databases came from a variety of sources. Much of the information for the 60-Probability Sample Files cases came from Huber and Simmons (2004; v11-15); the information on subsistence was originally coded by Loftin (1971). For the remaining cases in eHRAF, we looked for information in the Ethnographic Atlas (Murdock 1967) on the estimated relative dietary dependence on gathering, hunting, fishing, animal husbandry, and agriculture (column 7) and also the type and intensity of agriculture (column 28). Since the names in the Ethnographic Atlas and eHRAF do not always match, we consulted a concordance of cross-cultural samples (C. Ember et al. 1992). Lacking information from either of these sources, we read the cultural summaries in eHRAF and occasionally supplemented the material to decide upon type of agriculture by examining the subject category Tillage (OCM 241). There is one major difference in meaning between this coding scheme and Murdock (1967). The coding scale below adds a category for societies or subcultures where working for wages or in business is the primary way of making a living.

The reader should note that many, if not most, societies have undergone substantial changes in their ways of life and the classifications should be used cautiously. eHRAF often includes ethnographic information from more than one time period and more than one place. Many Native American societies, for example, are described as their life was prior to extensive contact with Europeans. In the 21st century, most people might work for wages, whereas in earlier times their economies were subsistence economies. In Europe, many ethnographers described peasant villages where farming predominated, not urban centers where commerce predominated. In Korea, some of the ethnography describes farming villages; other ethnography describes a fishing village. These codes, therefore, should only be taken as a rough guide as to where to find descriptions of people depending on different ways of making a living.


Ember, Carol R. with the assistance of Hugh Page, Jr., Timothy O'Leary, and M. Marlene Martin.1992. Computerized Concordance of Cross-Cultural Samples. New Haven: Human Relations Area Files.

Huber, Brad R. and LaWanda Simmons, compilers. 2004. HRAF Research Series in Quantitative Cross-Cultural Data: Volume I, General Cultural and Religious Data. New Haven, Conn.: Human Relations Area Files.

Loftin, Colin Kim. 1971 Warfare and Societal Complexity: A Cross-Cultural Study of Organized Fighting in Preindustrial Societies. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dissertation, Sociology.

Murdock, George Peter. 1967. Ethnographic Atlas. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.