The emergence of groups and of inequality is often traced to pre-existing differences, exclusionary practices, or resource accumulation processes, but can the emergence of groups and their differential success simply be a feature of the behaviors of a priori equally-capable actors who have mutually adapted? Using a simple model of behavioral co-adaptation among agents whose individual actions construct a common environment, we present evidence that the formation of unequal groups is endemic to co-adaptive processes that endogenously alter the environment; agents tend to separate into two groups, one whose members stop adapting earliest (the in-group), and another comprising agent who continue to adapt (the out-group). Over a wide range of model parameters, members of the in-group are rewarded more on average than members of the out-group. The primary reason is that the in-group is able to have a more profound influence on the environment and mold it to the benefit of its members. This molding capacity proves more beneficial than the persistence of adaptivity, yet, crucially, which agents are able to form a coalition to successfully exert this control is strongly contingent on random aspects of the set of agent behaviors. In this paper, we present the model, relevant definitions, and results. We then discuss its implications for the study of complex adaptive systems generally.
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