Kolbert describes an anthropologist’s encounter with 6-year-old Yanira, part of a remote Peruvian tribe. On a leaf-gathering expedition with another family, Yanira constantly makes herself useful—she sweeps the sleeping mats twice a day; she fishes for crustaceans, cooks them up and serves them to the others. “Calm and self-possessed, Yanira ‘asked for nothing,’ ” Kolbert writes of the anthropologist’s impressions.
The same anthropologist was part of a family study in Los Angeles as well, with very different results. In those families, “no child routinely performed household chores without being instructed to. Often, the kids had to be begged to attempt the simplest tasks; often, they still refused. …In [one] representative encounter, an eight-year-old girl sat down at the dining table. Finding that no silverware had been laid out for her, she demanded, ‘How am I supposed to eat?’ Although the girl clearly knew where the silverware was kept, her father got up to get it for her.”