A friend of mine messaged me this morning wondering if I had any thoughts on the polygamy debate (from arguments of reason rather than those of religion). Not only was I glad to help, but I got interested enough to do some digging of my own.
Polygamy usually manifests itself in polygyny (one male with several females) rather than polyandry. While this might sound great for the guys, it only works out well for some men. While high-status men can gain several wives, men with lower status won’t be able to have any. Since the sex ratio in humans is close to 1:1, polygamy means that many men will be left without wives at all. Wives are like wealth – one may dream of a utopian society where everyone may take as much as they like, but the truth of the matter is that there’s only so much to go around. It sounds much better for everyone to be equal instead of the top 1% keeping the most to themselves, is it not? (Looking at you, Big Business.) Uncomfortable with that analogy to wealth? That’s the whole point – in polygamy, wives (or husbands) are made into mere possessions, rather than a partner to work with and to love. Polygamy objectifies people, rather than respecting their dignity.
Furthermore, research shows that monogamous relationships are more stress-free than polygamous ones. According to a study by the European Society of Cardiology, polygamy increases the risk of heart disease more than 4-fold, with the risk being increased with each new wife (specifically coronary blockages). This is probably because polygamists need more than one income to support their extra wives and all the children that come into the bargain.
While I’m not one to believe in the all-men-would-be-rapists-if-we-didn’t-control-them lie, the situation of fewer women in the relationship pool seems like a dangerous place for women to me. More monogamous relationships in society are a good way to prevent crime. Marriage reduces male crimes like robbery, murder, and rape by 35%. The men left unmarried due to the high-status polygamists are more likely to turn to kidnapping, assault, and other crimes due to competition for women.
Polygyny is much worse for women and children. It means women are most likely to be married young, men can easily obtain a divorce (keeping women in line with the threat of it), women are isolated and given little attention. As younger brides meant to bear many children, maternal mortality grows by five times in societies with high rates of polygyny. Sex trafficking and domestic violence rates are also twice as high in such societies. Turning to the fate of children, Dr. Heinrich, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, found that children from polygamous relationships are less likely to live long. Fathers are more likely to spend their time and resources looking for new wives rather than caring for their children. Therefore, both boys and girls have a higher chance of malnutrition and little education. These children are, in fact, at a much higher chance of ending up on the streets and joining criminal or terrorist organizations. Child abuse is also more likely.
Even history shows that monogamy is more beneficial than polygamy (and we should learn from history, otherwise we’re doomed to repeat our mistakes, aren’t we?). Joseph Heinrich, Robert Boyd, and Peter J. Richerson’s study demonstrates that not only did the societies of ancient Greece and Rome ascend with the institutionalization of monogamy, but it also preceded the rise of European democracy. I would assume that this is due to the lack of conflict in society that is created by polygamy (as shown above).
Joining the ranks of those crying for polygamous marriage to be made legal, writer Freddie de Boer believes that polygyny only demonstrates how deeply ingrained patriarchy is in our society. He claims polyandry would be good for women. Great, Conor Friedersdorf says, tongue in cheek. Get rid of your (so-called, I would add) patriarchy and then let’s talk. I think the idea as a whole is ridiculous. There are scores upon scores of articles written by feminists these days, claiming that “monogamy is actually harder for women” and such nonsense. They ignore the fact that women are focused on deep intimacy in relationships, something that will never be achieved with more than one man in the picture – or more than one woman, for that matter. Ayala Pines notes that jealousy and envy are so hard-wired in humans that open or polygamous relationships do not work very well. “In my experience with open relationships,” she says, “the couple goes back to monogamy or else to illicit affairs. Or, it ends in divorce.”
Brooks, Rob. “Society-wide benefits of monogamous marriage.” http://theconversation.com/society-wide-benefits-of-monogamous-marriage-6908
Cline, Elizabeth. “Monagamy Is Good, And It’s Here to Stay.” http://www.yourtango.com/20086011/why-monogamy-is-good-for-women
Durant, John. “Good reasons why polygamy is a bad idea.” http://huntergatherer.com/good-reasons-why-polygamy-is-a-bad-idea/
Friedersdorf, Conor. “The Case Against Encouraging Polygamy.” https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/case-against-polygamy/397823/
Grossbard, Shoshana. “Polygamy Is Bad For Women.” https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/12/17/should-plural-marriage-be-legal/polygamy-is-bad-for-women
Hudson, Valerie and Rose McDermott. “Why Polygamy is Bad for National Security.” https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/07/polygamy-national-security-putin-120234
Ogbanna, Anthony. “Law to ban polygamy: There’s a connection between polygamy, poverty, and terrorism.” https://www.vanguardngr.com/2017/02/law-ban-polygamy-theres-connection-polygamy-poverty-terrorism-emir-kano/
Science Daily. “Monogamy reduces major social problems of polygamist cultures.” https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120124093142.htm
Science Daily. “Polygamy increases risk of heart disease by more than 4-fold.” https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150428141954.htm
World Health Organization. “Sex Ratio.” http://www.searo.who.int/entity/health_situation_trends/data/chi/sex-ratio/en/