The Societal Benefits of Monogamy

2013-07-01 Marriage

In a long-running discussion about same-sex marriage, one of the participants asked a simple question. It was (paraphrasing): What’s so great about monogamy, anyway? The answer, in part, is that:

…imposing monogamous marriage reduces male reproductive competition and suppresses intra-sexual competition, which shrinks the size of the pool of low-status, risk-oriented, unmarried men. These effects result in (i) lower rates of crime, personal abuse, intra-household conflict and fertility, and (ii) greater parental investment (especially male), economic productivity (gross domestic product (GDP) per capita) and female equality.

That’s the conclusion from an academic study summarized by Rob Brooks at The Conversation.

Another interesting thought–not fully developed in the article–is that the prevalence of polygynous cultures combined with their relatively dismal track record implies that monogamy is a social innovation that doesn’t emerge directly from human nature. In other words, men by nature want lots of sexual partners and so most societies try that out. Those societies that actually try monogamy, however, found that although it runs counter to the biological aspirations of men it’s actually a better arrangement for everyone.

3 thoughts on “The Societal Benefits of Monogamy”

  1. Over at WWE (, I talked about how polygamy was seen as “unnatural” in 19th-century America and was the reason that Mormons were believed to have degraded into a foreign race. Chris Smith noted in the comments that B.H. Roberts saw polygamy as “a divinely ordained species of eugenics” by which succeeding generations would be given “a superior fatherhood and motherhood, by enlarging the opportunities of men of high character, moral integrity, and spiritual development to become progenitors of the race.” I referenced this paper along with the irony of the Mormon claims regarding a polygamous society.

    Henrich and Boyd are no joke either. Their work is top-notch.

  2. FTR, there exists such a thing as polyandry. Polygamy itself just means multiple spouses. Polygyny is the specific form where one man has multiple wives. Thought I’d take a break from life to be pedantic for a moment. Carry on.

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