Polygyny refers to the marriage of a man with several women.
It is the most prevalent kind of polygamy, more generally referring to marriage with many partners. Polyandry is the counterpart in which a woman has multiple men, which is historically extremely rare, being generally practiced in resource-scarce areas where women had more economic power.
Polygyny has been quite common throughout history, either as a formal or informal institution, with the vast majority (84.6%) of documented human cultures practicing at least some form of polygyny.
Humanities closest extant animal ancestors, the apes of the Pan Genus (Chimps and Bonobos) are polygynous, though the type of polygyny practiced by them is often called polygynandry. Even though the 'Alpha' Chimps attempt to monopolize their multiple female partners by force, this is often a futile venture, due to the females being highly promiscuous.
Human's proportionately smaller testicle size, and lesser degree of sexual dimorphism between the sexes (compared to other great apes), however, suggest that cuckoldry was not as common among human's ancestors as it is among their closest living Great Ape relatives. Even today with great sexual freedom, it is rare for a man to raise other men's offspring. This is due to the fact that mammal species with more promiscuous females typically evolve larger testicles to produce greater amounts of semen in an attempt to displace male competitor's sperm, to win the battle to fertilize the female partner's egg.
Historical evidence[edit | edit source]
Humans are a moderately polygynous species. In the Ethnographic Atlas, of 1,231 societies noted, 588 had frequent polygyny, 453 had occasional polygyny, and only 186 were fully monogamous. Even fewer, just 4 were polyandrous. Hence, 84.6% of societies were at least mildly polygynous. In traditional societies, men's reproductive variances are approximately 2–4 times those of women. Also the highest lifetime reproductive success is over 1000, whereas the female maximum is 69, which implies greater sexual inequality for men. In average forager societies, 21% of married women are married polygynously. Women may have reproduced twice as often as men throughout history as a result. Women prefer partnered men over single men which may be related to women's preference for high status, but may also be an adaption of women living in harems.
Relation to female hypergamy[edit | edit source]
Assuming there was no significant shortage of men in human history, polygamy meant high status men drew from the mating pool of men with equal or lower status than their own. Thus, lower status men went empty-handed or had to marry less desirable women. It could thus be assumed that women's mate preferences were selected such that they desire men of high status and make use of opportunities to date up, that is, in addition to selection pressures stemming from women's resource dependence on men and their need for protection as the weaker sex especially from coersive low quality men (bodyguard hypothesis). Thus, women's hypergamous mating preference may not merely stem from necessity, but also from opportunity.
This means polygyny naturally ties in with the topic of hypergamy as women's greater choosiness, and their greater tendency to demand a potential romantic partner to have resource provision capabilities or high social status compared to men, implies an overall tendency for women to date up and for harems to form when hypergamous foids accumulate at the top of the male dominance hierarchy.
Mate-defense polygyny vs resource-defense polygyny[edit | edit source]
In ancient and primitive times, polygyny was presumably rather about single men's ability to guard their female mates by brute force, resembling polygynous mating behavior found in our closest relatives such as chimps and bonobos with more brute and primitive societies also showing higher rates of polygyny. Such mate-defense polygyny is probably grounded in sex differences in parental investment, causing men to grow larger and stronger in intrasexual competition and resulting in females to prefer large males who can protect them (bodyguard hypothesis). Species with large sexual dimorphism generally tend to be "tournament species" in that the males compete ruthlessly for access to high quality females, allowing the most dominant males to secure many females at once, i.e. engage in polygyny.
Modern polygyny is, on the other hand, is rather enabled by men's wealth rather than their brute force, presumably as men's superior strength and independence from reproductive burdens allowed them to extract much more resources, thus creating a resource dependence and pushing women to use whoring to get access to them, e.g. by flashing their genitals or boobs when a rich or large male approached as can be observed in online media on GoneWild, Twitter and OnlyFriends.
There is evidence that traits involved in both these types of polygyny co-evolved at some point in human's evolutionary past. For example, there is an, although weak, correlation between height and intelligence. This association may be due to women selecting for men that could provide both superior physical protection and access to resources in human's evolutionary past, as intelligence is moderately associated with SES in modern societies and would likely have also been associated with provision potential in more primitive societies, though perhaps to a lesser degree, due to the much greater cognitive demands of most jobs in modern society.
Enforced monogamy as means of self-domestication[edit | edit source]
Enforced monogamy, e.g. marriage institutions, may have been culturally evolved, at least in part, to counter the natural human tendency for the wealthiest, most dominant, highest status men to hoard a disproportionate amount of fertile young women and to alleviate a number of social ills caused by that. Issues caused by polygamy include for example:
- Beta uprisings: Lower-status males being observed in various species to band together to socially censure polygynous men.
- Demotivated betas: Inhibition of economic and social development due to concordant demotivated incel men.
- Increased intrasexual competition: Men in polygynous societies may find it increasingly difficult to guard their mates from the more sexually deprived non-polygynous men.
- Wealth threshold: There may be a 'wealth threshold' wherein greater economic inequality results in fewer men being able to meet the bar required to support women in polygynous marriages,
An example of the last point would be the fact that a man's social status is positively associated with his potential fertility and ability to become polygynous, that is, that wealthier and higher status men have a much greater 'potential' copulation frequency. Status was in fact found in one large scale study to explain up to 62% of the variance in men's potential copulation frequency, much higher than the typical effect sizes for other male traits in relation to this topic in psychology.
There is also strong evidence that the historical selection pressure on male wealth has been fairly large, with this selection pressure being the strongest in cultures with institutionalized polygyny. This historical selection pressure on male wealth strongly suggests that greater male wealth historically increased a man's chance of being polygynous, with a man's potential to become polygynous becoming mediated more by a man's access to resources, as opposed to brute physical dominance, as human societies increased in complexity.
These selection pressures on male resource provision potential, while weaker in societies with monogamous marriage norms, are still existent due to serial monogamy and institutions that subvert strict monogamy by allowing high-status men access to concurrent female partners. An example in Western culture would be wealthy men often maintaining one or several mistresses. Serial monogamy would be expected to benefit wealthier men, as these men often remarry younger, fertile women.
Remarriage rates are consistently higher in men than women, wealthy men are less likely to be childless primarily due to them being more likely than poorer men to be in stable unions (marital or non-marital), and serial monogamy benefits men more than women (likely due to men's more lengthy potential reproductive careers).
This evidence suggests that wealthy men are more likely to practice de-facto polygyny, even in modern countries with greater gender equality and still extant (though often weakly observed) monogamous social norms.
Growing acceptance of polygamy[edit | edit source]
According to a 2017 survey by Gallup, the acceptance of polygamy is on the rise with now 17% of U.S. American's being accepting of it. There is also evidence of increased sexual inequality as summarized in the hypergamy article and the Scientific Blackpill.
References[edit | edit source]
- Grey, JP. 1998. Ethnographic Atlas Codebook, derived from George P. Murdock's Ethnographic Atlas recording the marital composition of 1231 societies from 1960 to 1980. [Article]