Aging in Non-Human Primate Society: What Relevance for Social Gerontology?




Non-human Primates, Kinship, Social aging, Social bonds, Social disengagement, Rank and Status


Wild animals were once thought not to age, as their deaths were viewed as the consequences of constant exposure to the perennial risks of nature. Studies of non-human aging were largely confined to biological investigations, focusing upon short-lived species such as fruit flies, mice and nematodes. Over recent decades, this has changed, and studies of non-human aging have begun to investigate aging taking place in social contexts. The present paper reviews such work on social aging in non-human primate societies. Four themes were evident in seeking potential parallels between human and non-human social aging. These were social disengagement, social bonds or social capital, status rank and dominance, and kinship ties. No studies were found that had explored parent caregiving. The lack of clear evidence that agedness is perceived and recognised within non-human primate groups suggests that most age-associated behavioral changes are at best demi-regularities that map quite imprecisely upon social aging in human societies. However as non-human primate societies are becoming gradually confined to areas and environments established through human agency and human institutions, it is possible to speculate that non-human primate old age will become more common if less natural and as a result, perhaps more akin to social aging in human societies.

Author Biography

Chris Gilleard, University College London

Honorary associate Professor


Almeling, Laura, Holger Sennhenn‐Reulen, Kurt Hammerschmidt, Alexandra M. Freund, and Julia Fischer. 2017. “Social Interactions and Activity Patterns of Old Barbary Macaques: Further Insights into the Foundations of Social Selectivity.” American Journal of Primatology 79 (11).

Atsalis, Sylvia, and Elaine Videan. 2009. "Reproductive Aging in Captive and Wild Common Chimpanzees: Factors Influencing the Rate of Follicular Depletion." American Journal of Primatology: Official Journal of the American Society of Primatologists 71 (4): 271–282.

Archie, Elizabeth A., Jenny Tung, Michael Clark, Jeanne Altmann, and Susan C. Alberts. 2014. “Social Affiliation Matters: Both Same-Sex and Opposite-Sex Relationships Predict Survival in Wild Female Baboons.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 281 (1793).

Baker, Kate C. 2000. "Advanced Age Influences Chimpanzee Behavior in Small Social Groups." Zoo Biology: 19 (2): 111-119

Balcells, Cristina Domingo, and Joaquím José Veà Baró. (2009). “Developmental Stages in the Howler Monkey, Subspecies Alouatta Palliata Mexicana: A New Classification Using Age-Sex Categories.” Neotropical Primates 16 (1): 1–8.

Borries, Carola. 1988. “Patterns of Grandmaternal Behaviour in Free-Ranging Hanuman Langurs (Presbytis Entellus).” Human Evolution 3 (4): 239–259.

Borries, Carola, Volker Sommer, and Arun Srivastava, 1991. “Dominance, Age, and Reproductive Success in Free-Ranging Female Hanuman Langurs (Presbytis Entellus).” International Journal of Primatology 12 (3): 231–257.

Brent, Lauren JN, Angelina Ruiz-Lambides, and Michael L. Platt. 2017. "Family Network Size and Survival across the Lifespan of Female Macaques." Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 284 (1854).

Bronikowski, Anne M., Jeanne Altmann, Diane K. Brockman, Marina Cords, Linda M. Fedigan, Anne Pusey, Tara Stoinski, William F. Morris, Karen B. Strier, and Susan C. Alberts. 2011. “Aging in the Natural World: Comparative Data Reveal Similar Mortality Patterns Across Primates.” Science 331 (6022): 1325–1328.

Broom, Mark, Andreas Koenig, and Carola Borries, 2009. “Variation in Dominance Hierarchies Among Group-Living Animals: Modeling Stability and the Likelihood of Coalitions.” Behavioral Ecology 20 (4): 844–855.

Campos, Fernando A., Francisco Villavicencio, Elizabeth A. Archie, Fernando Colchero, and Susan C. Alberts. 2020. “Social Bonds, Social Status And Survival In Wild Baboons: A Tale Of Two Sexes.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 375 (1811).

Caplan, Arthur, ed. 1978. The Sociobiology Debate: Readings on ethical and scientific issues. New York: Harper & Row.

Carstensen, Laura L., Derek M. Isaacowitz, and Susan T. Charles, 1999. “Taking Time Seriously: A Theory of Socioemotional Selectivity.” American Psychologist 54 (3): 165–181.

Carvalho, Joana S., Bruce Graham, Gaёlle Bocksberger, Fiona Maisels, Elizabeth A. Williamson, Serge Wich, Tenekwetche Sop et al. 2021. “Predicting Range Shifts of African Apes under Global Change Scenarios.” Diversity and Distributions 27 (9): 1663–1679.

Caspari, Rachel, and Sang-Hee Lee. 2004. “Older Age Becomes Common Late in Human Evolution.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101 (30): 10895 –10900.

Chen, H‐C., Gisela Kaplan, and L. J. Rogers. 2009. “Contact Calls of Common Marmosets (Callithrix Jacchus): Influence of Age of Caller on Antiphonal Calling and Other Vocal Responses.” American Journal of Primatology 71 (2): 165–170.

Colman, Ricki J. 2018. “Non-Human Primates as a Model for Aging.” Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA)-Molecular Basis of Disease 1864 (9): 2733–2741.

Corr, Judith. 2003. “Social Behavior in Aged Rhesus Macaques.” Collegium Antropologicum 27 (1): 87–94.

Cowgill, Donald O. 1974 "Aging and Modernization: A Revision of the Theory." In Late Life: Communities and Environmental Policy, edited by Jaber F. Gubrium, 123-146. Springfield, Ill: Charles C. Thomas.

Cowgill, Donald Olen and Lowell D Holmes. 1972. Aging and Modernization. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Crimmins, Eileen M. 2020. “Social Hallmarks of Aging: Suggestions for Geroscience Research.” Ageing Research Reviews 63.

Cumming, Elaine, Lois R. Dean, David S. Newell, and Isabel McCaffrey. 1960. "Disengagement: A Tentative Theory of Aging." Sociometry 23 (1): 23-35.

Dagg, Anne Innis. 2009. The Social Behavior of Older Animals. Baltimore: JHU Press.

Das, Aniruddha. 2013. “How Does Race Get ‘Under the Skin'”? Inflammation, Weathering, and Metabolic Problems in Late Life.” Social Science & Medicine 77 (3): 75–83.

Drews, Carlos. 1993. “The Concept and Definition of Dominance in Animal Behaviour.” Behaviour 125 (3-4): 283–313.

Ellis, Samuel, Noah Snyder-Mackler, Angelina Ruiz-Lambides, Michael L. Platt, and Lauren JN Brent. 2019. "Deconstructing Sociality: The Types of Social Connections that Predict Longevity in a Group-Living Primate." Proceedings of the Royal Society B 286 (1917): 20191991.

Fedigan, Linda M., and Mary S. M. Pavelka. 2001. “Is there Adaptive Value to Reproductive Termination in Japanese Macaques? A Test of Maternal Investment Hypotheses.” International Journal of Primatology 22 (2): 109–125.

Ferraro, Kenneth F., and Tetyana Pylypiv Shippee. 2009. “Aging and Cumulative Inequality: How Does Inequality Get Under the Skin?” The Gerontologist 49 (3): 333–343.

Fischer, Julia. 2017. “On the Social Life and Motivational Changes of Aging Monkeys.” Gerontology 63 (6): 572–579.

Gaillard, Jean‐Michel, and Jean‐François Lemaître. 2020. “An Integrative View of Senescence in Nature.” Functional Ecology 34 (1): 4–16.

Garber, Paul A., Anna McKenney, Evelyn Bartling-John, Júlio César Bicca-Marques, María Fernanda De la Fuente, Filipa Abreu, Nicola Schiel, Antonio Souto, and Kimberley A. Phillips. 2020. “Life in a Harsh Environment: The Effects of Age, Sex, Reproductive Condition, and Season on Hair Cortisol Concentration in a Wild Non-Human Primate.” PeerJ 8:

Gonçalves, André, and Susana Carvalho. 2019. "Death Among Primates: A Critical Review of Non‐Human Primate Interactions towards their Dead and Dying." Biological Reviews 94 (4): 1502-1529.

Goodall, Jane. 1986a. “The Chimpanzees of Gombe.” Cambridge, MA: Belknap.

Goodall, Jane. 1986b. “Social Rejection, Exclusion, and Shunning among the Gombe Chimpanzees.” Ethology and Sociobiology 7 (3-4): 227–236.

Green, Tiffany L., and William A. Darity Jr. 2010. “Under the Skin: Using Theories from Biology and the Social Sciences to Explore the Mechanisms behind the Black–White Health Gap.” American Journal of Public Health 100 (S1): S36–S40.

Gove, Walter R. 1987. “Sociobiology Misses the Mark: An Essay on Why Biology but not Sociobiology Is Very Relevant to Sociology.” The American Sociologist 18 (3): 258–277.

Groves, C. P. 2018. “The Latest Thinking about the Taxonomy of Great Apes.” International Zoo Yearbook 52 (1): 16–24.

Hausfater, Glenn, Jeanne Altmann, and Stuart Altmann, 1982. “Long-term Consistency of Dominance Relations among Female Baboons (Papio cynocephalus).” Science 217 (4561): 752–755.

Hawkes, Kristen, James F. O'Connell, and Nicholas G. Blurton Jones. 1997. “Hadza Women's Time Allocation, Offspring Provisioning, and the Evolution of Long Postmenopausal Life Spans.” Current Anthropology 38 (4): 551–577.

Hawkes, Kristen, James F. O’Connell, NG Blurton Jones, Helen Alvarez, and Eric L. Charnov. 1998. “Grandmothering, Menopause, and the Evolution of Human Life Histories.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 95 (3): 1336–1339.

Hertzman, Clyde, and Tom Boyce. 2010. “How Experience Gets Under the Skin to Create Gradients in Developmental Health.” Annual Review of Public Health. 31: 329–347.

Hill, Catherine M. 2002. “Primate Conservation and Local Communities—Ethical Issues and Debates.” American Anthropologist 104 (4): 1184–1194.

Holt-Lunstad, Julianne, Timothy B. Smith, and J. Bradley Layton, 2010. “Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-Analytic Review.” PLoS Medicine 7 (7):

House, James S., James M. Lepkowski, Ann M. Kinney, Richard P. Mero, Ronald C. Kessler, and A. Regula Herzog. 1994. “The Social Stratification of Aging and Health.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 35: 213–234.

Hrdy, S. Blaffer. 1981. “‘Nepotists’ and ‘Altruists’: The Behavior of Old Females among Macaques and Langur Monkeys." In Other Ways of Growing Old: Anthropological Perspectives, edited by Pamela T. Amoss, and Stevan Harrell, 59–76. Stanford, CA.: Stanford University Press.

Inoue, Michiko. 1988. “Age Gradations in Vocalization and Body Weight in Japanese Monkeys (Macaca fuscata).” Folia Primatologica 51 (2-3): 76–86.

IUCN 2022. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2022-1. Accessed January 6, 2023.

Jones, James Holland. 2011. “Primates and the Evolution of Long, Slow Life Histories.” Current Biology 21 (18): R708-R717.

Junker, Jessica, Silviu O. Petrovan, Victor Arroyo-Rodríguez, Ramesh Boonratana, Dirck Byler, Colin A. Chapman, Dilip Chetry et al. 2020. “A Severe Lack of Evidence Limits Effective Conservation of the World's Primates.” BioScience 70 (9): 794–803.

Kapsalis, Ellen. 2004. “Matrilineal Kinship and Primate Behavior." In Kinship and Behavior in Primates, edited by B. Chapais & C. M. Berman, 153–176. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kapsalis, Ellen, and Carol M. Berman. 1996. “Models of Affiliative Relationships among Free-Ranging Macaque Monkeys (Macaca Mulatat) I. Criteria for Kinship.” Behaviour 133: 1209–1234.

Kato Eiko. 1999. “Effects of Age, Dominance, and Seasonal Changes on Proximity Relationships in Female Japanese Macaques (Macaca Fuscata) in a Free-Ranging Group at Katsuyama.” Primates 40: 291–300.

Kim, Peter S., James E. Coxworth, and Kristen Hawkes. 2012. “Increased Longevity Evolves from Grandmothering.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 279 (1749): 4880–4884.

Lemasson, Alban, Enora Gandon, and Martine Hausberger. 2010. “Attention to Elders’ Voice in Non-Human Primates.” Biology Letters 6 (3): 325–328.

Lowenstine, Linda J., R. McManamon, and K. A. Terio. 2016. “Comparative Pathology of Aging Great Apes: Bonobos, Chimpanzees, Gorillas, and Orangutans.” Veterinary Pathology 53 (2): 250–276.

Machanda, Zarin P., and Alexandra G. Rosati. 2020. “Shifting Sociality During Primate Ageing.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 375 (1811): 1–10.

Malone, Nicholas, Agustín Fuentes, and Francis J. White. "Variation in the Social Systems of Extant Hominoids: Comparative Insight into the Social Behavior of Early Hominins." International Journal of Primatology 33 (2012): 1251-1277.

Mayer, Peter J. 1982. “Evolutionary Advantage of the Menopause.” Human Ecology 10 (4): 477–493.

McMillan, Carol A. 1989. "Male Age, Dominance, and Mating Success among Rhesus Macaques." American Journal of Physical Anthropology 80 (1): 83-89.

Moon, Sang-Sik, Sang-Mi Park, and Sung-Il Cho. 2010. "The Association of Social Support and Activities with Health in South Korea: Differences in Age and Gender." Journal of Biosocial Science 42 (3): 409-424.

Nagel, Korbinian. 2016. “A Life Course Perspective on the Income-to-Health Relationship: Macro-Empirical Evidence from Two Centuries.” Diskussionspapier No. 171. Helmut-Schmidt-Universität - Universität der Bundeswehr Hamburg, Fächergruppe Volkswirtschaftslehre, Hamburg.

Nakamichi, Masayuki. 2003. “Age-Related Differences in Social Grooming Among Adult Female Japanese Monkeys (Macaca Fuscata).” Primates 44 (3): 239–246.

Nelson, Ingrid L. 2017. “Interspecies Care and Aging in a Gorilla 2.0 World.” Geoforum 79: 144–152.

Nishida, T. 1989. “Social Interactions Between Resident and Immigrant Female Chimpanzees.” In Understanding Chimpanzees, edited by P.G. Heltne and L.A. Marquardt, 68–89. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

North, Michael S., and Susan T. Fiske. 2015. “Modern Attitudes toward Older Adults in the Aging World: A Cross-Cultural Meta-Analysis.” Psychological Bulletin 141 (5): 993–1021.

Pavelka, Mary S.M. 1990. “Do Old Female Monkeys Have a Specific Social Role?” Primates 31 (3): 363–373.

Pavelka, Mary S. M. 1991. “Sociability in Old Female Japanese Monkeys: Human Versus Non-Human Primate Aging.” American Anthropologist 93 (3): 388–398.

Pavelka, Mary S. M. 1994. “The Nonhuman Primate Perspective: Old Age, Kinship, and Social Partners in a Monkey Society.” Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology 9: 219–229.

Pavelka, Mary S. M., Linda M. Fedigan, And Sandra Zohar. 2002. "Availability and Adaptive Value of Reproductive and Postreproductive Japanese Macaque Mothers and Grandmothers." Animal Behaviour 64 (3): 407-414.

Pavelka, Mary S. M., Michael W. Gillespie, And Lou Griffi. 1991. “The Interacting Effect of Age and Rank on the Sociability of Adult Female Japanese Monkeys.” In The Monkeys of Arashiyama: Thirty-Five Years of Research in Japan and the West, edited by Linda M. Fedigan and Pamela J. Asquith, 194–207. New York: State University of New York Press.

Peccei, Jocelyn Scott. 2001. “A Critique of the Grandmother Hypotheses: Old and New.” American Journal of Human Biology 13 (4): 434–452.

Peron, Guillaume, Christophe Bonenfant, Jean-Francois Lemaitre, Victor Ronget, Morgane Tdiere and Jean-Michael Gaillard. 2019. “Does Grandparental Care Select for a Longer Lifespan in Non-Human MAmmals.” Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 128: 360–372.

Pollock, Mary Sanders. 2015. Storytelling Apes: Primatology Narratives Past and Future. Philadelphia: Penn State Press.

Pradana, Anung Ahadi. 2022. “Social Capital as a Determinant of Health in Older Adults: A Narrative Review.” KnE Life Sciences 7(2): 1–11.

Robbins, Martha M., Netzin Gerald-Steklis, Andew M. Robbins, and H. Dieter Steklis. 2005. “Long-Term Dominance Relationships in Female Mountain Gorillas: Strength, Stability and Determinants of Rank.” Behaviour 142 (6): 779 –809.

Robbins, Martha M., Moses Akantorana, Joseph Arinaitwe, Peter Kabano, Charles Kayijamahe, Maryke Gray, Katerina Guschanski, et al. 2019. “Dispersal and Reproductive Careers of Male Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.” Primates 60: 133–142.

Rosati, Alexandra G., Lindsey Hagberg, Drew K. Enigk, Emily Otali, Melissa Emery Thompson, Martin N. Muller, Richard W. Wrangham and Zarin P. Machanda. 2020. “Social Selectivity in Aging Wild Chimpanzees.” Science 370 (6515): 473–476.

Rotkirch, Anna. 2018. “Evolutionary Family Sociology.” In Oxford Handbook of Evolution, Biology, and Society, edited by R.L. Hopcroft, 451–478. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sato, Anna, Hiroki Koda, Alban Lemasson, Sumiharu Nagumo, and Nobuo Masataka. 2012. "Visual Recognition of Age Class and Preference for Infantile Features: Implications for Species-Specific vs Universal Cognitive Traits in Primates." PloS one 7 (5): e38387.

Schino, Gabriele, and Marta Pinzaglia. 2018. “Age‐Related Changes in the Social Behavior of Tufted Capuchin Monkeys.” American Journal of Primatology 80 (3). 10.1002/ajp.22746

Schultz, Adolph H. 2004. “Age Changes, Sex Differences and Variability as Factors in the Classification of Primates.” In Classification and Human Evolution, edited by Sherwood Washburn, 85–115. London: Routledge.

Silk, Joan B., Jeanne Altmann, and Susan C. Alberts. 2006. “Social Relationships among Adult Female Baboons (Papio cynocephalus) I. Variation in the Strength of Social Bonds.” Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 61 (2): 183– 195.

Silk, Joan B., Jacinta C. Beehner, Thore J. Bergman, Catherine Crockford, Anne L. Engh, Liza R. Moscovice, Roman M. Wittig, Robert M. Seyfarth, and Dorothy L. Cheney. 2010. “Strong and Consistent Social Bonds Enhance the Longevity of Female Baboons.” Current Biology 20 (15): 1359–1361.

Siracusa, Erin R., Higham, James P., Snyder-Mackler, N. and Brent, Lauren J.N. 2022. “Social Ageing: Exploring the Drivers of Late-Life Changes in Social Behaviour in Mammals.” Biology Letters 18 (3).

Sokolovsky, Jay. 2009. The Cultural Context of Aging: Worldwide Perspectives. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers/Greenwood Publishing Group.

Strier, Karen B. 2018a. “Primate Social Behavior.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 165 (4): 801–812.

Strier, Karen B. 2018b. “Behavioral Ecology, Primates.” In The International Encyclopedia of Anthropology, edited by H. Callan, 1–5. London: John Wiley & Sons.

Sueur, Cédric, Martin Quque, Alexandre Naud, Audrey Bergouignan, and François Criscuolo. 2021. “Social Capital: An Independent Dimension of Healthy Ageing.” Peer Community Journal 1.

Tanskanen, Antti O., and Mirkka Danielsbacka. 2018. Intergenerational Family Relations: An Evolutionary Social Science Approach. London: Taylor & Francis.

Tarou, Loraine Rybiski, M. A. Bloomsmith, M. P. Hoff, J. M. Erwin, and T. L. Maple. 2002. “The Behavior of Aged Great Apes.” In Aging in Nonhuman Primates, edited by J. M. Erwin and P.R. Hof, 209–231. Vol. 31 of Interdisciplinary Topics in Gerontology and Geriatrics. Basel, Switzerland: Karger.

Taylor, Shelley E., Rena L. Repetti, and Teresa Seeman. 1997. “Health Psychology: What Is an Unhealthy Environment and How Does It Get Under the Skin?” Annual Review of Psychology 48: 411–447.

Thierry, Bernard. 1990. “Feedback Loop Between Kinship and Dominance: The Macaque Model.” Journal of Theoretical Biology 145 (4): 511–522.

Thompson, Melissa Emery, Zarin P. Machanda, Stephanie A. Fox, Kris H. Sabbi, Emily Otali, Nicole Thompson González, Martin N. Muller, and Richard W. Wrangham. 2020. “Evaluating the Impact of Physical Frailty During Ageing in Wild Chimpanzees (Pan Troglodytes Schweinfurthii).” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 375 (1811).

Thompson, Nicole A. 2019. “Understanding the Links Between Social Ties and Fitness Over the Life Cycle in Primates.” Behaviour 156 (9): 859–908.

Thompson González, Nicole, Zarin Machanda, Emily Otali, Martin N. Muller, Drew K. Enigk, Richard Wrangham, and Melissa Emery Thompson. 2021. "Age-Related Change in Adult Chimpanzee Social Network Integration." Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health 9 (1): 448-459.

Tibbetts, Elizabeth A. and James Dale. 2007. “Individual Recognition: It is Good to Be Different.” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 22: 529–537.

Turner, Trudy R., Fred Anapol, and Clifford J. Jolly. 1997. “Growth, Development, and Sexual Dimorphism in Vervet Monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops) at Four Sites in Kenya.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 103 (1): 19–35.

Uehara, Shigeo, Mariko Hiraiwa-Hasegawa, Kazuhiko Hosaka, and Miya Hamai. 1994. “The Fate of Defeated Alpha Male Chimpanzees in Relation to their Social Networks.” Primates 35 (1): 49–55.

Warr, Deborah J. 2006. "Gender, Class, and the Art and Craft of Social Capital." The Sociological Quarterly 47 (3): 497-520.

Washburn, Sherwood L. 1982. “Longevity in Primates.” In Aging: Biology and Behavior, edited by J.L. McGaugh and S.B. Kiesler, 11–29. New York: Academic Press.

Wittig, Roman M., and Christophe Boesch. 2003. “Food Competition and Linear Dominance Hierarchy among Female Chimpanzees of the Tai National Park.” International Journal of Primatology 24 (4): 847–867.

Wrzus, Cornelia, Martha Hänel, Jenny Wagner, and Franz J. Neyer. 2013. “Social Network Changes and Life Events Across the Life Span: A Meta-Analysis.” Psychological Bulletin 139 (1): 53–80.