Comment of the Week: Why Monogamy, Not Polygamy, Is the Norm

Reader Charles recently posted his theory as to why monogamy rules in the comments section of our post “Top 10 Reasons to Be — and Stay — Non-Monogamous.” Jump into the debate in the comments below:

To be blunt, the most effective method of doing something dominates. As a central economic tenant states “A firm that does not seek to maximize profit is either eliminated by competition or bought out by firms that do seek out that goal.”

Polygamy was the mode of a majority of primitive human societies and as [civilization] grew and developed, monogamy began to dominate. Why is that?

1) Raising a kid is extremely resource intensive ($200,000).

2) Humans are sickly and weak, frequently requiring a social network to survive (concrete family structure).

2a) For a concrete family structure there needs to be a clear view of priorities and who comes first.

3) People are jealous.

All of that together means polygamy causes wasted emotion energy, blurs who takes priority when it comes to distributing resources, and results in inferior children. If monogamy wasn’t the best way, monogamous societies would not have taken over societies with a more open [approach to] relations.

You be the judge:

Top 10 Reasons to Be NON-Monogamous


Top 10 Reasons to Be Monogamous


  1. Ever read “Sex at Dawn”? Just gonna throw this out there:

    The authors of that book suggested that while monogamy may be the current social norm, it’s not actually natural. They suggested that while we are descended from monkeys, we’ve been looking at the wrong monkeys: we’re less like the alpha gorilla or the possessive chimp, and more like the communal gibbon or horny bonobo. The authors suggested that in their most primitive and tribal state, most human societies were polygamous.

    The authors argue that polygamy under primitive social structures fulfilled some of the functions that Charles describes above: security, help from an extended group, etc. Every kid is seen as the tribe’s kid, not YOUR kid or MY kid. Every adult raises every child, and every child defers to every adult. Etc.

    The authors argue, however, that this model is ONLY feasible under the tribal model, and that once tribes hit about a hundred members, they tend to fracture and split off into groups. So… not a practical model for, say, a city of 8 million.

    Anyway, their point: monogamy may be normal, but not natural.

  2. I believe the argument to be fallacious because all of these arguments could be used to promote polygamy in the same fashion

    1. Children are expensive…shouldn’t more resources be available to raise them then? Polygamy provides more physical and emotional resources
    2. Humans are frail and weak and require a social network to survive. Yeah and polygamous relationships are a social network.
    2a. For a clear view of priorities, a family structure needs to be in place. Yes and that is no different than a monogamous relationship. Two parents can fight for supremacy just as much as 5…it’s compromise and skill prioritizing that makes for a stable family structure. Monogamy may have less complications, but the struggle still exists.
    3. People are jealous. People are also cruel, anxious, narcissistic and petty…these are not arguments for a social structure…they’re innate challenges that need to be addressed in any social construct.

    I get it, monogamy (or single male polygamy) has ruled the day for many centuries and the most aggressive societies have been monogamous (officially and usually for competitive reasons, such as patrilineal right of leadership). In a society where blood relatives don’t rule by godly right and male domination is not essential to survival, the remaining arguments for the “rightness” of monogamy are wobbly at best. Humans are flawed, but if a group wants to get together and have a relationship, that’s their prerogative and hopefully it works for them.

  3. Oh sweet innocent child, those are not the arguments for monogamy. They are the arguments for faking monogamy. It is true that a small number of animals (mostly birds) require two caregivers for extended periods of time and that evolutionarily no male bird (or other organism) can afford to spend such major resources unless it spends the time raising its own genes. Hence…monogamy. However, an even better solution is to fool a bird (or other organism) into thinking it’s the father. The siring bird gets to spread his genes widely, the female bird gets A+ level genes (which she could never have gotten if that bird was never allowed out of the nest), and the poor “father”bird working hard…well, it all pays off for the species, just not for him.

    Genetic analysis of the parentage of wild birds reveals on the order of a quarter of all “father” birds are sitting on nestlings they did not sire. But you didn’t need this lesson in biology. Just pull out your old rock&roll records and listen to Jim Morrison (or, better, Howlin’ Wolf) do “Back Door Man.”

    We’re evolved for monogamy…and we’re also evolved to evade monogamy. If we weren’t there would be no such thing as jealousy. As is, as dear Miss Parker told us so long ago,
    Hagamous higamous men are polygamous
    HIgamous hagamous women monogamous.

    Whatever you do, don’t read up about the cookoo bird. It will destroy all your sense in nature’s natural virtue.

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