I talked to Joe Henrich this week for The Insight about his book, The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous (the episode is going life next week). Obviously much of the discussion hinged around relatedness, kinship, and how that impacted the arc of history (we also talked about other issues, such as the status of the “big gods” debate, so most definitely tune in!).
So I was very curious when I saw a new preprint, Fine-scale population structure and demographic history of British Pakistanis:
Previous genetic and public health research in the Pakistani population has focused on the role of consanguinity in increasing recessive disease risk, but little is known about its recent population history or the effects of endogamy. Here, we investigate fine-scale population structure, history and consanguinity patterns using genetic and questionnaire data from >4,000 British Pakistani individuals, mostly with roots in Azad Kashmir and Punjab. We reveal strong recent population structure driven by the biraderi social stratification system. We find that all subgroups have had low effective population sizes (Ne) over the last 50 generations, with some showing a decrease in Ne 15-20 generations ago that has resulted in extensive identity-by-descent sharing and increased homozygosity. Using new theory, we show that the footprint of regions of homozygosity in the two largest subgroups is about twice that expected naively based on the self-reported consanguinity rates and the inferred historical Ne trajectory. These results demonstrate the impact of the cultural practices of endogamy and consanguinity on population structure and genomic diversity in British Pakistanis, and have important implications for medical genetic studies.
None of this is entirely surprising. The media in the UK has written about recessive disease load because of cousin-marriage amongst Pakistani Britons. But there are also things in the preprint that need to be made explicit. The “biraderi” social system is apparently a paternal lineage system in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent which transcends religion (i.e., it is present across the border in Indian Punjab). These are “tribal” or “clan” societies in a way that is not present across much of the Indian subcontinent. For example, my family is from eastern Bengal. Before the partition between India and Pakistan, the far northwest and northeast of the subcontinent had the highest proportions of Muslims. But that did not mean that the two regions were culturally very similar, explaining in part the war in 1971 that resulted in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, biraderi is not known, and the rates of cousin-marriage are much lower than in Pakistan.
One of the things I immediately noticed in the 1000 Genomes data is that Bangladeshis exhibit a lot less structure and stratification than Indians and the samples from Pakistani Punjab. In many ways, the patterns in the Bangladeshi genomes resemble the type of patterns in non-South Asian genomes: an outbreeding population without much internal structure.
This is not typical in South Asia. Rather, Indian populations tend to have lots of differences between jati/caste groups due to endogamy. To my surprise, Pakistani samples from Lahore were similar, though I attributed some of that to the migration of people from India after 1947 (a similar pattern does not hold for Bangladesh, as only a small number of people migrated from India). Additionally, the runs of homozygosity among Pakistani populations indicated lots of consanguineous marriages. While some South Indians marry cousins, the practice is very rare among North Indian Hindus. Rather, the genetic homogeneity of North Indian Hindus is due to the very high endogamy rates. They do not marry outside of their caste.
The results from the British Pakistanis are roughly in line with the 1000 Genome Pakistanis, but in this case, the researchers had much more granular ethnic data, as well as information on whether individuals were or were not the product of cousin-marriages. In terms of worldwide population affinity, there isn’t a great surprise. The Pathans, who are Iranian speaking, were distinct. The groups with putative Arab ancestry (Syeds), did not seem to have much of that (really, any).
The figure above shows the long-term effective population size patterns. Within the preprint the authors note that these northwest Indian populations began to diverge ~2,000 years ago. That is roughly in line with what Moorjani et al. found for their Indian samples. This tells us that these Pakistani populations were part of the same cultural milieu as Hindu populations in India itself, whose caste endogamy did not seem to crystallized until about that time. This also seems to run against the thesis presented by some Pakistani nationalists that the northwestern populations were very distinctive “non-Hindu” mlecchas. Al-Biruni and earlier observers identified caste as distinctively Indian, and the likelihood of population structure emerging at the same period in the northwest indicates that these people are broadly part of that milieu.
But I want to focus on the more recent period. Using various methods the authors estimate that the effective population sizes of many of these groups dropped 10-20 generations ago. If you assume 10 generations with generation times of 15 years, that’s 150 years. If you assume 20 generations with generation times of 25 years, that gives you 500 years. So let’s take that as our interval. What’s going on here? I think what this may illustrate is the spread of Muslim practices among Islamicized peoples of the northwest.
In my podcast with Henrich he mentions that Islamic societies are peculiar in their ubiquitous practice of “parallel-cousin-marriage.” This means that brothers will marry their children off to each other (a contrast with “cross-cousin-marriage”, common in South India, where brothers and sisters marry their children to each other). The ubiquity of cousin-marriage among Pakistani Muslims is a contrast with genetically and culturally similar populations across the border in India (Indian Punjabis do not marry cousins if Sikh or Hindu).
The fact that this practice occurred among an endogamous group for many generations has consequences. The figure to the right illustrates just how homogeneous some of these groups are against a generic European reference population. And, the fact that even unrelated individuals from the same biraderi group are often quite related. As you can see even people whose parents are unrelated still exhibit excess runs of homozygosity. This is simply a function of pedigrees being narrow, as just in Indian castes these individuals share many not-so-recent-ancestors.
A positive note is that this high level of inbreeding does not apply to Pakistani Britons where both parents were born in the country. That means that biraderi dynamics are maintained due to continuous migration from Pakistan. They’re not perpetuating themselves in the UK.
I started this post with Joe Henrich for a reason: if Henrich is correct that the differences in social structure and relatedness matter for development and economists, then Pakistan and Bangladesh might have different trajectories. Bangladesh is a corrupt and familialist society, just like Pakistan. But, that familialism is not as robust and articulated as is the norm in Pakistan. A transition to a more high-trust and non-familial society is more viable and an easier lift for a non-tribal culture where clans do not extend much beyond first cousins.