polygamy was present in most societies -- 9/14/15

Today's selection -- from The Price of Everything by Eduardo Porter. Historically, polygamy was present in most societies:

"Ninety percent of Ameri­cans think polygamy is morally wrong, according to a Gallup poll, more than those opposing cloning humans, abortion, or the death penalty. In most of the world monogamous marriage is the norm.

"But strict monogamy has been historically rare. In fact, polygamy -- ­when men have more than one wife at the same time, or a wife and sev­eral concubines -- has been popular across human history. It thrived in the great empires of the past, among kings and emperors who could afford many mates. It was common practice among the powerful in Zoroastrian Iran, the Egypt of the pharaohs, and in the Aztec and Inca empires. King Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hun­dred concubines. Yet according to the Bible this troubled God only because many weren't Hebrew but Moabite, Ammonite, Hittite, and so on, and had their own deities. Polygamy was banned from Ash­kenazi Judaism only in the synod convoked by Gershom ben Judah around the year 1000 of our era.

King Solomon and his wives

"From the 1960s to the 1980s the anthropologist George Murdock compiled a so-called Ethnographic Atlas, recording customs and practices in nearly 1,200 societies, both ancient and contemporary. Polygamy was prevalent in 850. Similarly anthropologists survey­ing 172 western North American Indian societies in the 1960s and 1970s reported that polygamy was only absent or very rare in 28.

"Polygamy was legal in Japan until 1880 and in India until 1955, when it was banned for Hindus but not for Muslims. In the United States, the Mormon Church only disavowed the practice around the turn of the twentieth century under intense pressure from the United States Congress, which disincorporated the Church and seized its assets in 1887. Even in the 1980s, scholars estimated that about 10 percent of the world's population [still] lived in polygamous soci­eties. Today, taking more than one wife is still common in parts of the Middle East, in much of Africa -- from the Sahel in the north to a band crossing from Senegal in the west to Tanzania in the east ­and among Mormon breakaway sects in the American West.

"Polygamy is in our genes. Geneticists studying genetic varia­tion in populations in China, France, Africa, and the South Pacific found that females passed down more genetic variety than males to their offspring, suggesting that more females than males managed to breed successfully. That fits a typical marker of polygamy: rich men mate a lot with lots of different women; poor men breed very little or not at all."


Eduardo Porter


The Price of Everything: Finding Method in the Madness of What Things Cost


Penguin Group


Copyright Eduardo Porter, 2011


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