As the next in my series on evolutionary psychology I wanted to highlight the unusual take that Satoshi Kanazawa gave on the subject of polygamy over at his blog. Here are some excerpts:
Contrary to popular belief, most women benefit from polygynous society, and most men benefit from monogamous society. This is because polygynous society allows some women to share a resourceful man of high status. George Bernard Shaw (who was one of the founders of the London School of Economics and Political Science where I teach) put it best, when he observed, â€œThe maternal instinct leads a woman to prefer a tenth share in a first rate man to the exclusive possession of a third rate one.â€
In contrast, most men benefit from monogamous society. Given a 50-50 sex ratio, monogamous society virtually guarantees a wife for every man, even a third-rate one. Under polygyny, some third-rate men may not find a wife at all, or, even if they are lucky enough to find one, their wife will not be as desirable as the one they can secure for themselves under monogamy, because under polygyny more desirable women would have become the second, third, or tenth wife of more desirable men.
The exceptions to this rule are highly desirable women, who benefit from monogamous society, and highly desirable men, who benefit from polygynous society. A highly desirable woman can marry a highly desirable man under any circumstances, but under polygyny sheâ€™d have to share her desirable husband with other women, whereas under monogamy she can monopolize him. A highly desirable man can acquire multiple wives under polygyny, but must confine himself to only one wife (albeit a highly desirable one) under monogamy.
When men imagine what living in a polygynous society might be like, they imagine themselves married to several wives. What they donâ€™t realize, however, is that, more than likely, they would be left without any wife in a polygynous society. Polygynous marriage in a polygynous society is always limited to a minority of men. If 50% of men have two wives each, then the other 50% cannot have any wives. If 25% of men have four wives each, then the other 75% cannot have any wives. When women imagine what living in a polygynous society might be like, they imagine themselves having to share their current, no-good loser of a husband with other women. What they donâ€™t realize is that they could be sharing Matt Damon or Bill Gates with other women.
Well alrightee then.
You have to admit, this guy is nothing if not provocative. (See here for his claim that we in America are already effectively a polygamous society in many ways.)
The first problem I see with his post is that he doesn’t describe the details of the polygynous societies he has in mind. Does he envision women freely choosing their husbands? If so that is a lot different than women being assigned to a husband as a young teen or something. Whether a polygamous society benefits women overall depends a lot on these sorts of issues.
Also, if polygyny suddenly were to become legal in the U.S. I don’t imagine it would gain much traction even if there were no social stigma associated with it. For one thing Kanazawa himself says that the most desirable women in a society would be hurt by polygyny, so they would work hard and probably effectively to block their highly desirable husbands (or future husbands before they are married) from participating in the practice. On top of that, legal marriage currently carries all kinds of legal and financial responsibilities for men so multiple legal wives would be and unlikely choice even for affluent men to begin with.
But what do you think of his thesis? Is Kanazawa totally out to lunch on this subject or do you think he has a point?
[Associated song: Pearl Jam - Betterman]