Concentrated wealth in agricultural populations may account for the decline of polygyny

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Across small-scale societies, the practice of some males taking multiple wives is thought to be associated with extreme disparities of wealth. But in fact, polygyny has been more common among relatively egalitarian low-tech horticulturalists than in highly unequal, capital-intensive agricultural societies. This surprising fact is known as the polygyny paradox, and a new study from the Santa Fe Institute's Dynamics of Wealth Inequality Project provides a possible resolution of the puzzle.

The team used a new model developed along with Seung-Yun Oh (Korea Insurance Research Institute), in which both men and women make marital choices to maximize the number of surviving children they raise. The model was tested on data gathered from 11,813 individuals' , marriage, and reproductive success in 29 diverse societies.

Their main finding is that where wealth is highly concentrated, few men are wealthy enough to afford more than a single wife, and the very wealthy, while often polygynous, do not take on in proportion to their wealth.

Cody Ross (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology), a former Santa Fe Institute postdoctoral fellow along with Santa Fe Institute Professor Samuel Bowles and University of California anthropologist Monique Borgerhoff Mulder led the team of 34 anthropologists and economists conducting the study.

"In many capital-intensive farming societies," Bowles explained, "there are so few sufficiently wealthy men that unless they were to have a truly extraordinary number of wives, only a small fraction of all women will be married polygynously."

Like previous studies, including those by Laura Fortunato (Santa Fe Institute, University of Oxford) and others, the model developed by the team takes account of the fact that taking on additional wives reduces the amount of a male's material wealth—land, cattle, equipment—available to each wife.

But the new study showed that the impediments to polygyny even among the very rich went way beyond the need to share the male's wealth among rival wives. "This is what really surprised us," said Borgerhoff Mulder. "Our estimates show that a very rich man with four wives will have far fewer kids than two men with two wives and with the same total wealth divided between them."

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More information: Greater wealth inequality, less polygyny: Rethinking the polygyny threshold model, Journal of the Royal Society Interface,
rsif.royalsocietypublishing.or … .1098/rsif.2018.0035
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Citation: Concentrated wealth in agricultural populations may account for the decline of polygyny (2018, July 17) retrieved 20 October 2019 from
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Jul 18, 2018
"polygyny has been more common among relatively egalitarian low-tech horticulturalists"

-No mention of religionists?

"Throughout the African polygyny belt stretching from Senegal in the west to Tanzania in the east, as many as a third to a half of married women are in polygynous unions, and polygyny is found especially in West Africa.[4] Historically, polygyny was partly accepted in ancient Hebrew society"

-It is a reproductive strategy meant to maximize growth and recovery after conflict which inevitably results from overgrowth. Wars deplete warriors and leave widows and orphans who need to serve productive roles within the tribe.

The mormon religion was relocated to resource-rich midwestern regions. Civil war widows were employed in polygamous marriages to quickly populate and to grow the workforce.

Many postwar german widows became mistresses of war vets which helped the country recover. Many historical examples.

Jul 18, 2018
Thing is, polygyny compliments both Male and female reproductive strategy. Men will seek to impregnate as many females as possible while females will want to mate with the most qualified.

"Woman prefer a tenth of a champion rather than all of a mediocre man." Oscar wilde

-This strategy would of course leave a lot of unmarried enlisted men with nothing to fight for. So monogamy can best be described as a prewar strategy while polygamy a postwar one.

Lebensborn an interwar one.

Jul 18, 2018
otto, you left out several points supporting your overall view of the history/herstory pf social development, from tribal to modern.

Low technology necessitates extra hands to accomplish even basic survival. Especially for women handicapped during late-stage pregnancy and afterwards, caring for infants.

The expansion of prostitution as a social norm. Beyond abusing servants and slaves. Allowed males to be promiscuous without risking their family wealth. Byblows had no father to make demands upon. How could they prove who fathered them?

Some men, knowing they were infected with venereal diseases, chose to use whores instead of inflicting themselves on their wives.

We see that today among the rightwing christian churches. Pious sanctity preaching monogamy in church and at home. Nut when they are traveling? What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Unless you are being filmed by a Russian Intelligence operation.

Jul 18, 2018
Jeez I didn't expect a synopsis of your family history/herstory willis. But thanks for the insight/site.

Jul 18, 2018
Oh otto, as DNA testing is exposing all the skeletons? This is every families lineage.

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