First, some basic facts. It turns out that historical and anthropological research suggests that about 85% of human societies observed were polygamous, where men are legally or socially permitted to have more than one wife (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 657). In the last century, however, there has been a powerful development towards monogamous marriage in many countries, even where polygynous marriage was traditionally permitted.
Furthermore, monogamous marriage has certainly been the norm in the Western world for about 2,000 years.
There are many reasons to think that monogamous marriage and nuclear families make a society better and more successful than polygamous or highly promiscuous societies.
Why is monogamous marriage with the nuclear family the basis of gender equality?
It can be explained fairly easily:
(1) in a society built on monogamous marriage, the most attractive, wealthiest, or most desirable men tend, generally speaking, to pair off with the most attractive, wealthiest, most desirable women.The gender equality here should be easy to understand: generally speaking, as long as the society is roughly made up of 50% men and 50% women who wish to marry, most people have a reasonable shot at finding a mate, who, ideally, will be their only and devoted partner.
(2) then the moderately attractive, moderately wealthy, or moderately desirable men tend, generally speaking, to pair off with the moderately attractive, moderately wealthy, or moderately desirable women.
(3) then the least attractive, least wealthy, or least desirable men tend, generally speaking, to pair off with the least attractive, least wealthy, or least desirable women.
But monogamous marriage also forces men to devote their time, energy and resources to one woman and her children by him, and vice versa.
It is also no surprise that the historical evidence suggests that monogamous marriage is more common in small-scale human societies where men are generally equal in terms of wealth or status, such as tribal or agricultural communities: a more egalitarian society tends to produce monogamous marriage (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 659), whereas as the development of societies with great economic or status inequality amongst men was associated with higher rates of polygamy. Still, some societies where economic or status inequality developed nevertheless have practised monogamous marriage (often under the influence of religion) and this seems to have clear benefits, not just confined to gender equality.
To see why monogamous marriage is the best and most important foundation of gender equality and socially superior, let us consider the only major alternative to monogamous marriage: polygamy.
What tends to happen in a polygamous society?
Once again, this can be explained fairly easily:
(1) the high status, most powerful, wealthiest men tend to monopolise women (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 657), even with and without arranged marriages, since women, generally speaking, have an innate tendency to favour high-status or wealthy men, not just highly handsome men (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 658). But, in a polygamous society, some women and their children can frequently be neglected by their husbands, who might shift their attention and care to younger, more attractive wives. This is grossly unfair to women, and, as we will see below, to men.In a polygamous society, you tend to get a pool of less wealthy, low-status unmarried men (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 662). This is grossly unfair to men.
(2) it is more difficult even for the moderately attractive, moderately wealthy, or moderately desirable men to attract wives, as women tend to compete with other women for the high status husbands.
(3) it tends to be much more difficult for the least attractive, least wealthy, or least desirable men to attract wives.
The poor man has less chance of getting a wife, and more women will tend to live in polygamous households, where competition and social conflict arising from numerous wives and children are likely to increase.
There is also the issue of inheritance: even the rich man must divide his property and resources between multiple wives and children, and this, paradoxically, might actually decrease the per capita resources available to each individual wife and her children, as compared with having married a moderately wealthy man.
But, in a monogamous marriage society, women get one husband who is socially and legally obliged to devote all his attention and resources to his one wife and children.
There are, furthermore, many other deleterious effects of a polygamous society, as follows:
(1) a polygamous society increases intrasexual competition amongst both men and women, in ways that cause deleterious effects on society (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 660). For example, in a monogamous society, once a man is married, he is formally taken off the marriage market, as it were. In a polygamous society, by contrast, married men still remain on the marriage market and they can still compete for women (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 663). Polygamy increases the intra-household competition between the wives of one man (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 664–665). Polygamy and increased intrasexual male competition tends to cause men to strive for greater control over women, whether their sisters, wives and daughters, and to promote gender segregation (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 663). Polygamy in traditional societies also tends to drive down the average age of first marriage for females and increases spousal age gaps (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 663–664), which causes an age gap that is a form of gender inequality.In short, a polygamous society is objectively worse than a monogamous society, and this is in addition to our first fundamental point: that monogamous marriage is a foundation of real gender equality.
(2) the evidence suggests that polygamous societies tend to produce higher rates of intra-household personal violence and conflict and competition for resources (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 660–661, 665), because of increased social tension within such polygamous households;
(3) polygamous societies tend to produce pools of unmarried young men who gather in groups, and who cause increased public disorder, crime and violence. Young, unmarried men, for instance, take greater risks and engage in more socially undesirable behaviour (including violence) in their efforts to attract women (Pinker 2011: 125). Young, unmarried men associating in groups tend to engage in higher levels of socially undesirable behaviour such as crime, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, gambling, murder, male-on-male violence in public spaces, rape, and sexual assaults on women (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 661–662) than married men. Studies show that men’s likelihood of committing a crime falls sharply with monogamous marriage and children (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 661), so it is in the interests of society as a whole to get as many men as possible into stable marriages with children. An interesting research finding is that monogamous marriage, but not polygynous marriage, reduces a man’s testosterone levels and so lowers the propensity to violence and aggression (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 661). Even when the causes are different (that is, not because of polygamy), large groups of young, unmarried men cause social chaos in society after society. Because of sex imbalances in the population (owing to the preference for male children), both India and China had horrendous problems with crime-prone, unmarried men in gangs in the 20th century (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 662). The violence in America’s Wild West period was caused to a great extent by gangs of young, unmarried men (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 662).
(4) historical evidence suggests that polygamous societies are more prone to violence against other societies by groups of young, unmarried men for the purposes of abducting women and making them wives, concubines or sex slaves (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 663).
(5) polygamous societies tend to result in lower male parental investment in children, and in wives who become less desirable than newer, younger women (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 661).
(6) polygamous societies tend to have higher rates of abuse, neglect and homicide of children, given that polygamous households are subject to intra-household competition between genetically unrelated wives (Henrich, Boyd and Richerson 2012: 665). By contrast, children in monogamous nuclear families experience much lower rates of abuse, neglect and homicide.
Some on the cultural left are trying to urge our societies to engage in experiments with polygamy or polyandry.
This is completely mad: our society isn’t some petri dish in a lab for unhinged cultural leftists to do experiments on.
Monogamous marriage with the nuclear family is a superior form of social organisation. And Old Leftists, sensible Social Democrats, Realist Leftists and Alt Leftists should strongly defend it. Don’t try and “fix” something that ain’t broken.
I can’t help but respond to a comment below here.
No, the cultural leftist attempt to promote polyamory and polyandry is just as stupid and unhinged. It will have the following consequences:
(1) polyandry can never be anything but some delusional feminist fantasy. There are hardly any men who would want to engage in such a practice. How many men would want to share their girlfriends or wives with other men?In short, cultural leftists are effectively engaged in trying to turn our sexual behaviour back to the mating patterns of the baboons and chimpanzees: that is, a world where alpha males dominate most of the females.
(2) polyamory is just another attempt to destroy gender equality that monogamy does actually provide, and would most likely result in de facto polygamy anyway as the most attractive, wealthiest, or most desirable men attract more women as partners, because women – general speaking – are attracted to such men.
It’s just a recipe to create more groups of unattached, unhappy men who cause social chaos and a hedonist society where women call all the shots, which would probably result in fewer people finding a partner or having sex, because women will generally chase after the most attractive, most desirable, wealthiest men.
Furthermore, we’ve already had an experiment in promiscuous lifestyles since the 1960s. And how has it worked out?
We had a catastrophic crime wave from unmarried, young men congregating in groups in the mid-1960s, 1970s and 1980s (see Pinker 2011: 127).
Cashdan, Elizabeth. 1996. “Women’s Mating Strategies,” Evolutionary Anthropology 5.4: 134–143.
Henrich, Joseph, Boyd, Robert and Peter J. Richerson. 2012. “The Puzzle of Monogamous Marriage,” Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences 367.1589: 657–669.
Pinker, Steven. 2011. The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. Viking, New York, NY.
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