Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What Would/Does Modern Polygamy Look Like?

The most common human mating pattern is monogamy, the next most common polygyny (one husband, two or more wives), then polyandry (one wife, two or more husbands). Tibet had both polyandry and polygyny. I know of no society where group marriages (two or more of each) were common, but examples have existed, such as the Oneida commune in 19th century New York and various smaller groups in the 1960's and thereafter.

Under current U.S. law, although monogamy (including same sex monogamy) is the only form of marriage legally recognized, there do not seem to be any serious legal bars in most states to de facto polygamy. All three forms, although uncommon, exist. It is interesting to speculate on what forms polygamy might take in the future in modern developed societies, given  a technological and economic environment different from the environment of past polygamous societies.

On the technological side, two big changes are reliable contraception and paternity testing. The latter solves the most obvious problem with polyandry. Men want to know whether a child is theirs. In the past, the only reliable way of doing so was for the man to have had exclusive sexual access to the child's mother; now all it takes is a reliable lab. So we could have several husbands sharing a wife who bears children by all of them, with each taking a special interest in his own children. The selective use of contraception would even make it possible to decide in advance which men would father children and how many. 

One function of marriage is to produce and rear children, another is sexual pleasure. One woman is physically capable of satisfying several men and some women might enjoy doing so. Reliable contraception makes it more practical than in the past to delink sex from marriage, and to a considerable extent it has happened. But keeping sex within a small group has an obvious advantage for reducing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and may also make better use of the emotional concomitants of intercourse.

Why polyandry instead of monogamy? Modern technology provides ways in which parents can choose to raise the odds of producing a son, and the result in some societies is a substantial m/f imbalance in the population. Polyandry would make it possible in such a society for the excess men to have wives and families.

What about polygyny, the historically more common form of polygamy? It provides a solution to a different problem. Back when legalized abortion and readily available contraception first became hot political issues, a major argument in favor of both was preventing the birth of unwanted children, meaning children born to unmarried mothers. Both legalized abortion and readily available contraception now exist in most developed societies—and have been accompanied by the precise opposite of the predicted effect, a sharp increase in the number of children born to single mothers.

One possible explanation is that, in a world where intercourse was likely to lead to pregnancy, most women were unwilling to sleep with a man unless he was prepared to offer support to any resulting offspring, typically by being engaged or married to her. Breaking that link meant that women who did not want children and did enjoy sex were willing to engage in it without such a guarantee, which sharply worsened the bargaining position of women who wanted sex, children, and support. Some of those who could not find husbands chose to produce children without them. Polygyny would offer some of them the more attractive alternative of being one of two or more wives of men who wanted children and had sufficient resources to support them. And for such men, it provides more sexual variety than monogamy, more emotional security and less medical risk than promiscuity. Also more children.

So far I have been looking at marriage primarily from the standpoint of sex and children. It is also an institution for the production of household services and the sharing of income. In one traditional form of monogamy there was a fairly sharp division of labor, with the wife running the household and the husband working outside it to bring in income. The combination of low rates of infant mortality, meaning that a family that wants to end up with two children need only produce two, and modern technology—washers and dryers, dishwashers, microwave ovens, food bought already prepared—has converted household production from a full time to a part time job. The usual modern response is for both partners to earn income outside of the household, possibly with one of them, usually the wife, taking some years off for child rearing. An alternative, possibly a superior alternative, would be a family of three or more, with one member specializing in running the household and caring for the children.

One additional feature of modern society might affect how practical various forms of marriage would be. We are used to taking it for granted that most income earning is done outside of the household. That has not always been the case in the past—a common pattern has been for family members to be self employed running a shop or a farm. Telecommuting may make something similar again common. The problem of having someone home to keep an eye on the children is substantially reduced if parents who work do their work at home.

All of this is mostly speculation. Over the years I have occasionally encountered people who were part of polygamous families of one sort or another, but have never done much research into how or why they were organized. There is a literature, largely online, on polyamory, but it seems to deal more with structuring the emotional relationships than with organizing production, child rearing, and associated activities.

Comments welcome, especially from those with first hand experience.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

42 Comments:

At 4:02 PM, May 27, 2014, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is much, much easier for three or more people to have a successful sexual relationship with one another if the people involved are bisexual.

 
At 4:24 PM, May 27, 2014, Blogger Christian Gruber said...

Worth noting that a lot of the online and extant material on polyamory involves emotional relationship issues over practicalities largely because institutional frames rendered such practical matters largely moot... it was very hard to set up group-cohabitation when anti-polygamy laws were designed to round up people who were acting polygamously even if they weren't officially seeking sanction for these relationships.

That said, a lot more of the polyamorous community (or communities) discussions are focusing on legal and practical advice around setting up common households, dealing with child-rearing, division of labour, engaging with social institutions like schools, hospitals and other places where relationship status is considered relevant, etc.

I also think you haven't gone far enough back in history. "The most common relationship pattern is monogamy" ... in the last millennium, possibly two. Polygamy was the norm for nearly all pre-modern-christian societies outside of Rome (it seems to have been, in the christian world, taken from roman culture) and some other examples. But it certainly hasn't been the overwhelming human norm in written history. And we can be nearly certain that group-mating (omnigamy??) is likely the pre-horticulture human norm, as it is among chimps and bonobos and every pre-horticultural society we've encountered.

 
At 6:01 PM, May 27, 2014, Blogger jimbino said...

If I were a young man, I would deliberately use the gummint policy of heaping benefits on married folks as a weapon.

I would practice serial polygyny, offering a bright young foreign woman the chance to marry me, live with me, bear my children, gain a green card and ultimately, if she so wished, Amerikan citizenship.

The game here is that I would do this 5 times, remaining married to each (always young) woman, in sequence, exactly 10 years, the time needed for her to gain rights to my Social Security benefits. I would end up living with five women and all my children.

The advantage to me is obvious: I get the dedicated service of women who would each bear my children. The benefits to the women are huge, though not so obvious: career opportunity, welfare benefits, green card, enhanced career opportunities if she should wish to work, knowledge that her minor children would share my SS benefits if I were disabled, retired or died, and, once married to me for 10 years, by law a share herself in my Social Security and Medicare benefits. All the women could qualify for the benefits if married to me for 10 years.

Unfortunately, a man who marries at 21 would have time to repeat the marriage routine only 5 times.

But that amounts to a lot of nanny-state benefits--for 5 women and say 25 kids--all entitled to a free ride based on my own FICA contributions.

All perfectly legal.

 
At 9:26 PM, May 27, 2014, Anonymous Laird said...

Robert Heinlein explored the idea of plural marriage in several of his books, notably The Mood is a Harsh Mistress.

 
At 9:28 PM, May 27, 2014, Anonymous Laird said...

Oops, that (obviously!) should have been "Moon".

 
At 8:43 AM, May 28, 2014, Anonymous J.E.S. said...

Ugh. Why can't economists acknowledge the existence of oppressive hierarchies? I get that you're trying to look objectively at sexual and reproductive diversity, and I think that's a worthy goal for economists. But at some points your own cultural blinders are clearly on. Let's start with this:

"Modern technology provides ways in which parents can choose to raise the odds of producing a son, and the result in some societies is a substantial m/f imbalance in the population. Polyandry would make it possible in such a society for the excess men to have wives and families."

So our biggest concern in that scenario is making sure that straight dudes can still get laid? Not, ya know, the fact that women and girls are being marginalized by genetic technology? Or the fact that even today in China, India, and elsewhere girl-babies are being left to die or sold to sex traffickers?

Next, you go on to repeat the good ol' Christian Right argument about how breaking the link between sex, baby-making, and marriage "sharply worsened the bargaining position of women who wanted sex, children, and support." And of course the result is that an army lazy, slutty welfare moms produce "unwanted children."

Has it occurred to you that the unprecedented, radical inequality in our country is at least in part to blame for the financial strain that breaks up families, especially in communities of color? No, men and women do not stop having "traditional", GOP-approved families because they are lazy, or because everything can be reduced to a simplistic Econ 101 flow-chart of financial "incentives." Women are not stocks and securities to be traded on the market by men. There are far more complex social reasons for these changes than it seems you are willing to acknowledge.

You are obviously well-respected in your field, and I do understand that you are trying to approach social issues in a way that reflects your academic background. Cool. But when you don't take into account historical hierarchies of race and gender, the result is a very confused analysis that seems more concerned with guaranteeing mens' access to womens' bodies than anything else. Goes to show how important it is to check your privilege before writing something like this (or perhaps in the editing process) about reproductive freedom. I think if you take stock of your own biases as a white, upper-class male before moving forward, you will find you will produce a much more coherent analysis.

 
At 11:05 AM, May 28, 2014, Anonymous Rex Little said...

Hypothesis: "Check your privilege" = "I don't like what you say but have no logically coherent reply."

Evidence kindly provided by J.E.S. above.

Jimbino, your plan sounds great if you don't mind paying child support your entire working life, for as many as 10 kids at a time (depending on how they're spaced) not counting the ones living with you. I think I'd find it less painful to just run a chainsaw through my leg.

 
At 1:50 PM, May 28, 2014, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have known several poly groups, and flirted with the idea of "joining" one.

Two patterns emerged - one where everyone slept with everyone, and another with interlocking connections, but not an all with all relationship.

The all-with-all ones seemed less stable, which should be obvious - some pairings are simply going to be more compatible than others.

The smaller ones also seemed more stable, and as group size increased, so did coordination to keep it working smoothly. One family I know of has seven people and one of them is de facto social coordinator.

I know less about how tasks are split, but it seems not much different than how groups of college kids live, except with more maturity - de facto preferences tend to solidify, conflicts and unfairness get worked out, etc.

 
At 3:22 PM, May 28, 2014, Blogger David Friedman said...

J.E.S. writes:

"Next, you go on to repeat the good ol' Christian Right argument about how breaking the link between sex, baby-making, and marriage "sharply worsened the bargaining position of women who wanted sex, children, and support." And of course the result is that an army lazy, slutty welfare moms produce "unwanted children.""

1. The argument I offered actually comes from academic work by Akerloff and Yellen, neither of whom, I think, is a member of the Christian Right. Yellen, as you may know, is current chairman (chairwoman?) of the Fed.

2. I said nothing at all about lazy, slutty moms. As I think should have been obvious, my point was that the argument for legalized abortion and widely available contraception assumed that the children of unmarried women were unwanted, whereas the evidence of what happened after those policies were adopted suggested the opposite.

Your suggestions would be more useful if you tried to understand arguments before criticizing them.
And the economic assumption that people are rational actors does not reduce women to stocks and bonds to be traded.

 
At 3:24 PM, May 28, 2014, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Polygamy was the norm for nearly all pre-modern-christian societies outside of Rome"

I don't think so. In Athens, men were permitted a concubine, but only one wife. In the Islamic world, polygyny existed but seems to have been much less common than monogamy. Similarly in China. What is the evidence to support your claims?

 
At 3:35 AM, May 29, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

There is an interesting (albeit short) discussion of polygamy in the Roy Baumeister's book "Is there anything good about men?" (which is an extension of an article with the same title).

Specifically, he considers polygyny. His argument is that making it socially acceptable would be a benefit even more for women than for men. Women are often attracted to men of high status, where status should be understood in a relative sense (e.g. for me a world champion in boxing has less status than my Phd advisor, for a boxer it is going to be the other way around...in other words, status is a multidimensional variable that is only semi-ordered). Sometimes they even prefer the much less advantageous position of a mistress over that of a wife (because the man already has one and does not want to give her up). However, the wife is also worse off, because there is a threat that the guy will divorce her and marry the other one instead (still, because of legal bindings, she is better off if that happens tho her than she would be if she were just the mistress).

Because of that, a woman might settle for someone she would not otherwise choose - because he is free. Even if she would otherwise prefer to share a husband with another wife(s) (it can also be legally set up, similarly to Heinlein's polyandrous+polygynyous "line marriage" where all members of tha household have to agree on a newcomer, so every wife has a veto, or just a vote, on a possible new one). "Half" of a really great guy might be better for some women than an entire not-so-great guy. And of course, women who still seek monogamy can get it the same way.

So who is better of in this scenario? All women except for the very "top" (those who could today get just about any man they wanted just for themselves...but they might fall short against two "not so great" women) and then the guys at the very "top". What about the not-so-great guys? They seem to be the real suckers in this scenario, because if enough women prefer polygyny over a "worse" husband, they might find themselves with much poorer choices than in monogamy, or possibly they might find no partner at all. Now with polyandry also, this might get a bit more symmetric, although women and men still probably have a bit different preferences and that would influence it. My guess is that women are by and large more willing to share a man than men are to share a woman (it could change if it turns out male jelaousy is mostly conditioned on the uncretainty about children and not hardwired as such), in that case, the not-so-great men are the real winners of monogamy. And monogamy, in that case, can above everything else, be a device to stabilize a social order. Men, who have nothing to lose (from the genetic standpoint at least) are much more likely to start a rebellion, a revolution, or something like this to get a chance to get a higher status. That is especially true of the past I'd say, as "status" used to be much less structured back then (as was the society as a whole).

 
At 6:08 AM, May 29, 2014, Anonymous Bruce said...

>"Ugh. Why can't economists admit the existence of oppressive hierarchies? ... at some points your cultural blinders are clearly on..."

Most universities started as preacher's colleges. Manufacturing out lay preachers, addicted to sniffing out crimethink, is a more rational choice for today's educational system than trying to polish these turds into educated adults. So far.

According toKenneth Rexroth's Communalism most communes through history have needed a strong leader with remarkable social skills. Women were drawn to polygamy because housework was brutal for just one wife, plus, women REALLY like having other women to talk to.

 
At 7:10 AM, May 29, 2014, Anonymous Daublin said...

Nice to see a reasoned discussion of these things.

I am less charitable than you to the polyamory material I have read online, especially the polyamory FAQ. It seems entirely speculative, more about what is possible than about what is actually happening, or even advisable.

Christian Gruber, I am not sure I agree that there have been practical legal barriers to polyamory in the last few centuries. You can get an awful lot of leeway by calling your partners "roommates". People don't do it anyway. Why is that?

For what it's worth, I've run into very few polyamorous groups myself. In the one I can think of, one of them married a man, focussed on the child they had, and ended up kicking out everyone but the husband and biological children. I'm not sure how to generalize from that, except that it seems that polyamorous groups are not very stable.

Emotionally, it might be hard to have more than one confidant. Given the resources to do so, people may simply want to habitate with only that one confidant. In the last century, almost everyone able-bodied can earn enough resources to have their very own personal domicile, so they either live alone or with their confidant.

Among the possibilities you list, open marriages and swinging seem worth mentioning. These have exploded since the rise of contraception. Lots of people are enjoying sexual pleasures without connecting it to anything like a marriage.

 
At 8:31 AM, May 29, 2014, Blogger Milhouse said...

Hypothesis: "Check your privilege" = "I don't like what you say but have no logically coherent reply."

Evidence kindly provided by J.E.S. above.


When someone says "check your privilege" without irony, this is a reasonably good indicator that the speaker has nothing worthwhile to say, on any topic. It's about equivalent to claiming the moon landings were faked.

 
At 8:42 AM, May 29, 2014, Blogger Milhouse said...

Christian Gruber, I am not sure I agree that there have been practical legal barriers to polyamory in the last few centuries. You can get an awful lot of leeway by calling your partners "roommates". People don't do it anyway. Why is that?

There was no such leeway until very recently. Adultery and fornication were crimes, and were prosecuted when discovered. And it was socially unthinkable for a single man and woman to be alone together for any significant time.

Consider the play A Catered Affair, from the 1950s. The premise is that the protagonists have been offered a free road trip across America, so they have to get married quickly. Traveling together without being married simply wasn't an option.

 
At 9:39 AM, May 29, 2014, Anonymous Power Child said...

It's heartening to see comments like J.E.S.'s receive the easy debunking and sound drubbing they deserve.

Anyway, David, here are some reasons why I think polygamy will not become more popular (in functional societies anyway), even in a future of total reproductive control, cheap household appliances, and ubiquitous work-from-home opportunities:

1. Over our 200,000 years as humans, and our several millions of years as hominins, we have tried countless different social configurations, but heterosexual monogamy has remained exceedingly dominant, with polygyny only occasionally popping up here or there and hanging on for as long as possible (which, as I shall argue in #2, isn't very long). Incidents of polyandry or truly mixed polyamory are so rare they barely register. Therefore...

2. Until there is a major evolutionary change (like, say, men are able to give birth and women are generally able to lift heavier things and be more assertive), polygamy will always skew way towards polygyny, with a resulting imbalance of eligible bachelors to bachelorettes in the society. It only takes a small proportion of men marrying just two women each to create a considerable imbalance. This imbalance is deeply destabilizing because of all the male in-fighting over eligible females.

3. The children of polygamous marriages (of any kind) do not do as well as children of heterosexual monogamous marriages. This means the male children of polygamous marriages will be less able, on average, to one day support several wives and children of their own.

4. I don't know if you ever had to watch very young kids, David, but I watch my infant daughter for just half of one day a week to give my wife a break, and it's extremely demanding. I have to do this on Saturday because I can't do my work and watch a baby at the same time unless she's napping--she grabs at the keyboard or crawls over to a sharp object or yells nonsense while I'm on a business call, that sort of thing.

My wife is barely hanging on as a stay-at-home mom, and we have all the modern conveniences except a Roomba. If we had two kids still in diapers, it would be nearly impossible for my wife. If my wife had to take care of even more kids from other wives, there's no way it could work, and if those other wives stayed home there's no way I could afford to support them all. (And even if I could support them all, that doesn't sound like the kind of household any sane man would want to come home to.) So, maybe once the kids are in preschool it's different, but that's still at least 2-3 years. Very unlikely that more than a few high-powered, slightly neurotic men could pull it off.

 
At 6:55 PM, May 29, 2014, Anonymous The Laconic said...

One woman is physically capable of satisfying several men and some women might enjoy doing so.

"That escalated quickly."

 
At 8:11 AM, May 30, 2014, Blogger Nancy Lebovitz said...

Source for your claim about children of polygamous marriages not doing as well?

 
At 8:55 PM, May 30, 2014, Blogger Old Odd Jobs said...

J.E.S is an obvious troll. There's no way someone could be so clueless and so sanctimonious.

 
At 9:39 PM, May 30, 2014, Anonymous Rebecca Friedman said...

I doubt J.E.S is a troll; there are plenty of people who hold the kind of opinion he expressed, and it's not beyond the bounds of reason that one would comment on this blog. I'm sure someone on his side would view many of the commentators here as clueless and/or sanctimonious. There is a huge wide diversity of human opinion out there, even among perfectly rational people; I'm used to seeing people of the majority opinion ignore it, but disappointed to see the same problem here. :(

Power Child, in response to your #4:
He has, and he's quite good at it. (Having observed him with grandchildren; I can only remember so much of when I was that old.) I think some of how hard that is may depend on individual temperament; some may find it more of a strain than others.

 
At 11:51 AM, June 02, 2014, Anonymous Power Child said...

@Nancy Lebovitz:

There were a few Canadian studies that I'd have to dig up links for on my other computer. Would take me a few days but I can do it.

In the meantime, for a quick comparison of long-term outcomes of the children of polygamous marriages you can look at parts of the world where polygamy is common. How are those parts of the world doing?

@Rebecca Friedman:

I have no doubt your dad is great with kids. (I'm a natural with them, too!) My point, however, was not about the extent to which kids are a "strain" on one's patience or anything like that.

Rather, the huge amount of work and attention that a very young child demands (to keep them from harm's way, let alone to keep them engaged or pacified) is such that it is not possible to be very productive while supervising them at the same time. Thus, working from home would not make it easier to polygamize, either as a breadwinning husband or as one of the associate-breadwinning sister-wives.

 
At 12:32 AM, June 03, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

Power Child: It is risky to just point out to a geographical area where polygamy is more common and say "the kids there are doing bad". Those areas are also different in many other (possibly more important) factors from the "western" (Australia is not quite western, but still belongs into that culture group) countries, so you would first have to eliminate their influence to be able to see the effects of polygamy itself.

 
At 5:57 AM, June 03, 2014, Anonymous Power Child said...

@Tibor Mach:

What makes you sure the other ways those places are different don't also have something to do, perhaps indirectly, with their predominance of polygamy?

 
At 9:55 AM, June 03, 2014, Anonymous Power Child said...

@Nancy Lebovitz:

I don't think I'll have time to dig up those links I mentioned, so I found some new ones instead:

Study on outcomes of children from non-traditional marriages (including polgyamy): http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1020925123016#page-1

Study on the effects of polygamy on women and children in the UAE: http://www.acco.be/download/nl/9009641/file/journal_2005-jg-08-1_the_impact_of_polygamy_on_united_arab_emirates__first_wives_and_their_children.pdf

I think this refers to the Canadian study I'd found earlier, but this is just the abstract: http://polygamy411.com/the-study-of-the-effect-of-polygny-on-women-and-children/

 
At 9:56 AM, June 03, 2014, Anonymous Power Child said...

@Nancy Lebovitz:

I don't think I'll have time to dig up those links I mentioned, so I found some new ones instead:

Study on outcomes of children from non-traditional marriages (including polgyamy): http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1020925123016#page-1

Study on the effects of polygamy on women and children in the UAE: http://www.acco.be/download/nl/9009641/file/journal_2005-jg-08-1_the_impact_of_polygamy_on_united_arab_emirates__first_wives_and_their_children.pdf

I think this refers to the Canadian study I'd found earlier, but this is just the abstract: http://polygamy411.com/the-study-of-the-effect-of-polygny-on-women-and-children/

 
At 10:57 AM, June 04, 2014, Blogger David Friedman said...

Power Child writes:

"I don't know if you ever had to watch very young kids, David"

I have. After our daughter was born, I concluded that nobody had more than two children—those that claimed to just borrowed the extras from the neighbors when they needed to put them on display. One child used all our time, and while I was willing to imagine with more practice one might manage two, that was obviously the upper limit.

 
At 10:58 AM, June 04, 2014, Blogger David Friedman said...

Tibor:

You can find a discussion of the economics of polygyny and polyandry in my Price Theory. The relevant chapter is webbed at:

http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Price_Theory/PThy_Chapter_21/PThy_Chap_21.html

 
At 11:06 AM, June 04, 2014, Blogger David Friedman said...

"for a quick comparison of long-term outcomes of the children of polygamous marriages you can look at parts of the world where polygamy is common. How are those parts of the world doing?"

If the reason is the marriage pattern, shouldn't the pattern apply not merely now but in the past? In the ninth century, both the Islamic world and China looked pretty good compared to western Europe.

On the argument that polygamy creates social strains because of a shortage of partners for one gender, it seems to me it could as easily go the other way. Humans produce roughly equal numbers of daughters and sons, but the numbers in the adult population need not be equal. Until recently, bearing a child was the most dangerous activity engaged in by any very large part of the population, which would tend to reduce the population of adult females. Sex selection in modern societies can have the same effect. Warfare, especially among hunter gatherers, has the opposite effect.

One nice thing about a society with both polygyny and polyandry is that it provides a solution to such imbalances. If women are in short supply, two men can share a wife, if men in short supply, two women can share a husband. I believe Heinlein makes that point somewhere in _The Moon is a Harsh Mistress_.

 
At 12:35 PM, June 04, 2014, Anonymous Power Child said...

David:

Your conclusion about nobody having more than two children is perfect! Plus, it supports my point.

WRT polygamous societies that were high-functioning in the 19th century, note that my argument compared long-term outcomes. It's therefore possible for a society to take up polygamy and then remain high-functioning for a few hundred years, but in the long-term that is not sustainable. Today the Islamic world is greatly reduced in stature. I don't know the extent to which polygamy was once/is currently practiced in China, so I can't really speak to that example, though Chinese society, while having made great advances recently, also is not in most respects a benchmark of achievement to the world.

It's true that many events can cause gender imbalances, but with polygamy those imbalances are institutionalized and constant--not to mention the fact that they consistently create shortages of eligible women, rather than alternating or randomizing which gender there are shortages of.

And you're right that childbirth was once very dangerous and was sure to wipe out many women. (Perhaps Steven Pinker should give a nod to this when considering why we are so much less violent these days.) So why make things even more imbalanced with polygamy?

Which events create imbalances the other way? Being constantly engaged in wars bloody enough to level out the ratio of eligible men and women (i.e. either you're lucky enough to score multiple wives or you die on the battlefield) doesn't exactly make for a stable society either.

But let's imagine that due to a mixture of events (dangers of childbirth disproportionately killing off women, warfare disproportionately killing off men, etc.), a society's gender imbalances fluctuated this way and that. Offering both polygyny and polyandry might seem a useful solution to this problem, except that the vast majority of humans are naturally adverse to both polyandry and truly mixed polyamory. It's wired into our psychology, with only a few outliers willing to sign up for it--and even among them it rarely works out as well for them or for their children as heterosexual monogamy.

 
At 1:51 PM, June 04, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

Power Child:

"What makes you sure the other ways those places are different don't also have something to do, perhaps indirectly, with their predominance of polygamy?"

I am not sure about anything :) I'm just saying that even if you find out that in all the places where you have polygamy (of any kind) today, the kids (or adults) are doing worse than in (almost) exclusively monogamous places, it could still be caused by something else and just observing this is not good enough to draw any strong conclusions. You have to eliminate the other factors first.

 
At 2:16 PM, June 04, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

David:

Thanks...actually, I've been meaning to read that whole book for some time. I am slowly getting there through my "to read when not busy or lazy" list :)

As for Moon is a Harsh mistress, I read it quite recently (December), so I think I still remember it rather well and I don't think he discusses polygyny at all. Polyandry is very common there, since there are supposed to be roughly 2/3 men and 1/3 women (luna being a prison colony) and also Manny lives in a "line marriage" which has an equal number of both sexes (plus or minus one) and every time a new person is to be accepted, they all have to agree on that first (I am not sure if they all had veto power or just the oldest husband and wife). I wonder if something like this has ever existed in real life.

It's true though that polygamy both ways seems to be more stable than one-way polygamy (particularly polygyny), because of the possible hordes of frustrated young men with "nothing to lose" and possibly causing a revolution. Still, it does not seem to be more prevalent for some reason, you have either polygyny or polyandry, but not both (unless I am missing some place and time, which is not all that unlikely, since I have never explored the topic that much).

 
At 2:41 PM, June 04, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

Power Child:

"...Offering both polygyny and polyandry might seem a useful solution to this problem, except that the vast majority of humans are naturally adverse to both polyandry and truly mixed polyamory. It's wired into our psychology, with only a few outliers willing to sign up for it--and even among them it rarely works out as well for them or for their children as heterosexual monogamy."

My feeling is that you are right with this. I certainly cannot quite imagine living like that myself (but maybe I'd like it, I have never tried it :) ) and I don't think I know anyone who would enjoy that.

Then again, in a society where (at a given time) there are a lot more men than women (today's China, because of its 1 child policies), a lot of men won't be able to find a monogamous relationship. They might still prefer polyandry (with some women who prefer 2 "worse" husbands to a single "better" one) to being alone. Likewise with polygyny in a case of too few men. Those kind of relationships may simply pop out in larger numbers whenever there is such an imbalance...only to fade out to a much smaller minority once the sex ratio is closer to 1/2 again. I prefer having a woman only to myself to sharing the same woman with another guy, of course. But I would probably prefer sharing if my only other realistic option were being alone. Possibly, but I am not sure about that, I would even prefer sharing an especially great woman with another guy to being just myself with a woman I don't really like (again if that were my only other option).

 
At 7:06 PM, June 04, 2014, Anonymous Power Child said...

@Tibor Mach:

You're correct that my suggestion of looking at polygamous societies and comparing them to non-polygamous ones is not, by itself, a fully conclusive, airtight, debate-ending case for polygamy's dismal long-term outcomes. However, I suggested it just as an intermediate thought experiment while I hunted for some links. So as far as that goes, I think it served its purpose well.

Meanwhile, experience does not show that polyandry has ever been widely considered a "less worse" option than being alone. I see no convincing reason why this would be likely to change in the future--not in China or anywhere else.

 
At 1:40 AM, June 05, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

Power Child: Well, maybe there have never really been significant imbalances in the sex ratio towards more men in the past. In parts of China, polyandry is present, although (if wikipedia is to be believed on this) mainly for reasons related to wealth (scarcity of land in the mountains and such). I don't know how Chinese deal with this imbalance in general today and what the local law says about polygamy.

One thing that makes polyandry less appealing might be prostitution. In a society where sex happens strictly in marriage, polyandry could be more common. However, men don't just want sex, they also want children (and generally someone to be with) and for that a brothel is not even a bad substitute.

However, for men in most societies, sharing a wife would be considered humiliating and that humiliation may outweight the benefits of not being alone. But since there are societies (albeit rare) in which this is not a stigma, I think it is at least mainly cultural and not so much hardwired. They also seem to believe there that a child can have multiple fathers (which is technically possible by the way...although extremely rare...if the child is a chimera). That would at least weakly suggest that the jealousy is driven mostly by the desire to know which children are mine and not hardwired itself.

 
At 4:37 AM, June 06, 2014, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anyone compared the children of polyamorous groups with those of other intentional group living arrangements?

-- Charles

 
At 6:09 AM, June 06, 2014, Anonymous Power Child said...

@Charles:

In an earlier comment I included the following links:

Study on outcomes of children from non-traditional marriages (including polgyamy): http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1020925123016#page-1

Study on the effects of polygamy on women and children in the UAE: http://www.acco.be/download/nl/9009641/file/journal_2005-jg-08-1_the_impact_of_polygamy_on_united_arab_emirates__first_wives_and_their_children.pdf

A Canadian study on the effects of polygyny on children: http://polygamy411.com/the-study-of-the-effect-of-polygny-on-women-and-children/

 
At 10:03 PM, June 07, 2014, Blogger Faheem Zia said...

http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2014/05/what-woulddoes-modern-polygamy-look-like.html

 
At 11:08 PM, June 10, 2014, Blogger ali said...

Find Best Online Home based Jobs
www.jobzcorner.com

 
At 11:09 PM, June 10, 2014, Blogger ali said...

Find Best Online Home based Jobs
www.jobzcorner.com

 
At 11:00 AM, June 12, 2014, Blogger Faheem Zia said...

For All Latest Hot Current Affairs
www.hotcurrentaffairs.comati which

 
At 5:03 PM, June 14, 2014, Blogger Ahsan Afsar said...

World Most Popular and Top Amazing Speedy Cars
TopAmazingCars.BlogSpot.Com

 
At 4:40 AM, June 18, 2014, Blogger Emo Zubair said...

Best Business Plan from home, invest as low as $1 and get 10% Daily Profit
www.ansearnings.com

 

Post a Comment

<< Home