How did monogamy become so normalized across almost all cultures and religions?


How did monogamy become so normalized across almost all cultures and religions?

In: Other

Humans are a pair bonding species that forms monogamous pairings naturally in order to raise offspring. It is an evolved trait that has existed for all of recorded human history and likely extends far into pre-history.

Monogamy is a characteristic of large and complex societies, I believe. Harem style governance, where the strongest male has all the wives, causes much in-fighting among the men. But it is still going on in many rural parts of the world. I was just told of the villages in the jungles of southeast Asia where young girls were sold off to rich men (who already have a few wives) by witch-doctors. (The guy telling us about it had started a school and boarding house for these kids.) I’ve heard it said that when women get power, monogamy is the result. If that’s the case, to develop, a culture must empower women, allowing them to be more than harem objects, and some family based social structure can emerge.

I’m not sure about the eastern religions, but all three Abrahamic faiths have patriarchs who had very large harems. I think it’s a modernity thing.

It has to do with knowing who the father of any children is. If you’re not sure whether the child is yours then you are less likely to care for it. This why it was common for men to have many wives but less common for a woman to have many husbands.

Assume a society of perfect freedom to select your partners. Such a society is inevitably polygamous. Women choose to mate only with high status men and high status men choose to mate with as many women as they can.

However, this is often disastrous for societies.

For men who aren’t in the high status class, this means they have virtually no access to romantic partners. These men tend to become what is termed ‘surplus males’. This isn’t just bad for the men who are ‘surplus’ – but often devastating for society because surplus males have a tendency to turn violent and otherwise act in socially disruptive ways. One of the consequences of this is that polygamous societies tend to be violent and warlike.

On the other hand, women aren’t very pleased either. While women would prefer to mate with high status men, they’d prefer to *exclusively* mate with high status men. That is, they don’t want to share the resources of that high status male with other women. In a polygamous society, women have virtually no value to high status men and are treated as disposable objects. In practice, this means that women exert limited social, political and economic power in a polygamous society.

Note that these polygamous effects can be observed even in nominally monogamous societies. The U.S. is technically ‘monogamous’. But has polygamous characteristics. What actually occurs is that high status men may only be married to one woman at a time, but they’ll generally go through multiple wives – always selecting a high value (young, beautiful) wife to replace a low value (older, fading) wife. At the same time, they’ll also have (young, beautiful) women on the side as mistresses.

Given the inherent instability of polygamous societies, they tend to persist for shorter times than monogamous ones – and that means, over time, the majority of societies will be monogamous.

Property rights.

Before agriculture, people followed their food around, so 1) your group only owned what it could carry, and 2) it really didn’t matter who was sleeping with whom because everyone in the collective group took care of everyone else.

Agriculture meant that you could get food from one single place, which means that a single family could build structures and accumulate possessions, as well as claim the land itself for their own, changing the focus from the larger group to the smaller “mine”. People wanted to pass these belongings / lands to their children to keep them “mine”, which means it became much more important to know that their children were…you know…*theirs*.