The Polygamist's Daughter

Stories, Reflections and Conclusions of Life on the Inside


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Research on the Perils of Polygamy

This is a fascinating article that has tremendous research behind it. Polygamy is not the same as gay marriage, which for me is like comparing apples to oranges. There simply is no rationale for comparison.
The Perils of Polygamy

by

May 21, 2012
Recent empirical research suggests that, in virtually every respect, polygamy is socially detrimental—to society in general, to men, to women, and to children.

In the course of history, approximately 85 percent of societies have practiced polygamy. Pushed by advocates of same-sex marriage and multiculturalism, some scholars, such as the signers of “Beyond Gay Marriage,” argue that it is irrational and bigoted for contemporary society to limit marriage to just two people. However, there is no bigotry in treating different things differently, and there are many important differences between polygamy and monogamy in practice as well as in principle.

There are three main forms of polygamous relationships: polygyny, polyandry, and polygynandry. In polygyny, by far the most common form of polygamy, one man may marry a number of wives. In polyandry, one wife has two or more husbands. This form of polygamy is extremely unusual, and often takes the form of two brothers marrying the same woman. In polygynandry, two or more wives marry to two or more husbands. Polygynandry is even more rare than polyandry, but will be similar in some respects to polygyny, insofar as a man has more than one wife. Since both polygynandry and polyandry are virtually non-existent, I’ll focus on the more common case of one man with multiple wives, and use the more common term polygamy to describe this arrangement.

Now let us turn to the practical considerations drawn from human experience. Recent empirical research suggests that, in virtually every respect, polygamy is socially detrimental—to society in general, to men, to women, and to children. These problems arise because of the nature of human reproduction.

In human reproduction, slightly more male than female babies are born (approximately 105 boys to 100 girls). As boys are more likely to die of natural causes as infants and from violence before they marry and reproduce, ceteris paribus, at any given marriageable age, there will be approximately 50% males and 50% females. Given roughly equal numbers of males and females as found in nature, polygamy and monogamy shape society in radically different ways. In a monogamous society, for each man there is a corresponding woman. William Tucker notes that this gives “every man [and every woman] a reasonable chance to mate.” By contrast, in a polygamous society, some men take multiple wives, but this leaves other men with greatly diminished prospects of marriage or an exclusion from mating altogether. The question under consideration, then, is what social effects does this arrangement bring?

In their 2012 article, “The Puzzle of Monogamous Marriage” appearing in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Joseph Henrich, Robert Boyd, and Peter J. Richerson used converging lines of evidence from the social sciences to compare polygamous and monogamous societies. They found that polygamous societies differ from monogamous societies in terms of violent crimes, female educational attainment, domestic violence, parental investment in children, and economic productivity.

A wealth of sociological information points to the fact that single men commit the vast majority of violent crimes. Women and married men seldom murder, rob, rape, and assault in comparison to single men. So, since there are many more single men in polygamous societies, polygamous societies have higher rates of violent crime. As Henrich and colleagues note:

Faced with high levels of intra-sexual competition and little chance of obtaining even one long-term mate, unmarried, low-status men will heavily discount the future and more readily engage in risky status-elevating and sex-seeking behaviors. This will result in higher rates of murder, theft, rape, social disruption, kidnapping (especially of females), sexual slavery and prostitution.

With little reason to invest in the established social order, single males are more likely to turn away from activities conducive to long-term productivity and turn toward the quick thrill, if not a violent overthrow of the established social order. These tendencies are detrimental to society as a whole, including to single men who are the most common victims of theft, violent assault, and murder.

In a polygamous society, the age of marriage will be lower for females than in a monogamous society. With a relative scarcity of possible mates of their own age, men seek wives among women of younger ages. Early marriage in turn leads to much higher rates of reproduction. Rather than delaying marriage and childbearing until their twenties or thirties, women marry and have children as teenagers. In modern social conditions, teen motherhood is detrimental for both these young women and their families. For a female teen, marriage to a much older man makes it unlikely that she will have an equal partnership with her husband and makes the completion of her education difficult, if not impossible. Indeed, marriage at a young age to a much older man is also linked to lethal domestic violence. In the words of one study:

The larger the age gap, the more likely it is that a husband will kill his wife, and vice‐versa (the young wife murders her husband). … This suggests that polygyny is relatively (potentially) much more dangerous than monogamous relations because age gaps of 16 years are not uncommon when accumulating young wives.

The difference in age exacerbates gender differences, and, for men, is more likely to give rise to jealous fears that their young wives will be unfaithful.

The phenomenon of “co-wives”: (a misnomer since polygamy typically involves a hierarchy among the wives) also undermines the well-being of women. The senior wives worry that they will be replaced by younger wives, and the younger wives in turn worry about the power exerted in the home by senior wives. Research indicates that levels of domestic strife and violence are higher in polygamous homes than in monogamous homes as wives seek to preserve their place with their shared husband as well as struggle to secure resources for their own biological children. As Henrich and colleagues point out:

Co-wife conflict is ubiquitous in polygynous households. From anthropology, a review of ethnographic data from 69 non-sororal polygynous societies from around the globe reveals no case where co-wife relations could be described as harmonious, and no hint that women’s access to the means of production had any mitigating impact on conflict.

These conflicts lead polygamous family units, particularly those with three or more wives, to have in general higher rates of divorce than monogamous couples. In the supplementary materials to their article, Henrich, Boyd, and Richerson point out: “Systematic and controlled analyses from polygynous societies generally show higher divorce rates for polygynous vs. monogamous marriages in the same society. … Relative to monogamous families, polygynous families with more than two wives are five times more likely to divorce.”

As bad as polygamy is for women, it is perhaps even worse for the well-being of children. Because the polygamous wives tend to be younger and less well educated, their children suffer in not having more mature mothers, as would be more typical of their counterparts in a monogamous society. The children suffer also from having multiple stepmothers involved in ongoing struggles with each other. Half-siblings must compete for limited resources while having weaker genetic bonds to mitigate the conflict. While these extended-family relationships could in theory be a source of support, more often they endanger children. Henrich’s study explained:

Much empirical work in monogamous societies indicates that higher degrees of relatedness among household members are associated with lower rates of abuse, neglect and homicide. Living in the same household with genetically unrelated adults is the single biggest risk factor for abuse, neglect and homicide of children. Stepmothers are 2.4 times more likely to kill their stepchildren than birth mothers, and children living with an unrelated parent are between 15 and 77 times more likely to die “accidentally.”

Polygamous families are also more likely than monogamous families to be in poverty, since typically only one breadwinner supports numerous children.

Polygamous societies also dilute the investment of fathers in their children in at least two ways. First, because marriage to other young women is still an option, a husband’s resources of time, attention, and money are diverted away from his own children and toward finding new mates. Secondly, in virtue of the greater number of children in the polygamous family, it becomes increasingly difficult to give each child sufficient time and attention. Indeed, some fathers of polygamous families have so many children that they do not even know each child’s name. This dilution of paternal investment is similar in effect to being raised by a single mother with all its attendant risk factors (especially for males) for drug abuse, trouble with the law, and dropping out of school.

A final harm brought on by polygamy is economic. Henrich’s study notes:

When males cannot invest in obtaining more wives (because of imposed monogamy) they invest and save in ways that generate both reduced population growth and more rapid economic expansion (increasing GDP per capita). Thus … the nearly threefold increase in GDP per capita between Comparable Monogamous Countries and Highly Polygynous Countries is partially caused by legally imposed monogamy.

Economic well-being contributes in turn to the stability of families which is a benefit to men, women, and children alike.

Finally, even aside from the sociological data, there is an inherent inequality in polygamous marriage. In monogamous marriage, spouses give themselves as spouses to each other unreservedly, unconditionally, and entirely. Now, giving oneself as a husband or wife to one’s spouse does not exclude giving of oneself in ways that are not distinctly marital to other people (such as playing tennis with a business partner, or going to the movies with a group of friends). Part of the marriage vow is the promise of sexual fidelity, the bodily manifestation of one’s commitment as spouse entirely to the spouse and to the spouse alone.

In a polygamous marriage, the man does not give himself qua husband entirely to his wife. A polygamous husband gives himself qua husband to however many wives he has. Wives, by contrast, are expected to reserve themselves in a sexual way for their husband alone. Moreover, wives face inequality among themselves as “senior wives” enjoy rank above “junior wives.” The polygamous relationship can never attain the mutual and complete self-donation of spouses in monogamous marriage because it is intrinsically impossible to reserve oneself in a sexual way entirely for one person and at the same time reserve oneself in a sexual way entirely for a different person (or persons). Marriage understood as a comprehensive union can exist only between two persons, and never more than two persons. Society, therefore, has good reason not simply to proscribe polygamy, but to endorse monogamy.

Christopher Kaczor is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University and the author of The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice (Routledge 2011).

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In a Quandary

I began this blog for the purpose of enlightening readers on the subject of polygamy, its relationship with religion and my own experiences of growing up in a polygamist commune. It has been my intent from the beginning to express my viewpoints and share my memories from a place of acceptance and compassion while remaining free from judgment.

Over the past month I have connected with many other people who were brought up with the polygamist lifestyle. I have heard their opinions, research and findings with regard to polygamy and its impact in their lives and upon society as a whole. Most of them are adamantly against polygamy because of the pain it has caused in their lives and the lives of those they love. They have all been abused in some form as a result of this lifestyle, some as children and some as wives. They come from all over the world and from various religions with the intent of bringing into the light the truth behind the practice of polygamy; the truth of what goes on behind closed doors.  This group is made up of both men and women who wish to see progress toward equality and better treatment of humanity.  

As a result of being part of this group I began to feel againstness in my heart. I have become so spiritually in tune with myself that I can feel when I am not in perfect alignment with my own internal truth.  The feeling of againstness does not resonate with my soul and asks that I take a deeper look into how I really feel about polygamy.  This feeling of againstness has pulled the energy away from my original intent with this blog. In my feelings of againstness I lost sight of the compassion and acceptance that are the foundation of my life and who I have become.

And so I return again to how I really feel about polygamy as a lifestyle choice. Let us not forget that polygamy is a lifestyle choice. Unlike homosexuality and pedophilia which are physical and mental conditions respectively, polygamy is purely a choice. It is not a choice that I consider attractive in any way personally, but it is a choice that others find desirable. For some it is about real and genuine love, for some it is nothing more than sexual gratification or desperation, and for some it is based in fear and coercion with justification by religion.

I find myself in a quandary because I support love. When love is genuinely expressed between mutually consenting, loving and respectful adults I wholeheartedly support it. If men and women choose to invite other loving relationships into their marriage without coercion or control that should be their choice. And in actuality it always has been, but without the label of marriage. So why must that change? An open relationship allows the freedom of partners to make love with whomever they choose. The issue as I see it is with marriage itself. Leave morality out of marriage and allow it to simply be about love and all of the issues about who gets to marry simply goes away. But many people insist that marriage must be sanctified by their God and in order to make polygamy politically and morally correct it must be made legal.

How do we create an environment that allows people to openly express love with whomever they choose? (within legal age of course) How do we place limitations on the genuine expression of love? Do we sacrifice the good of the whole for the desires of the few who wish to be in a relationship with more than one person at a time?  The lifestyle of polygamy has overwhelmingly been proven to be harmful to the families who live it. How can we justify legalizing a lifestyle that has been proven harmful to society? If polygamy is legalized how do we protect those women and children who are and will continue to be abused by it?  Is it time for a complete restructuring and redefinition of marriage as a whole?  Do we even need marriage or is it an age old custom that has run its course?  These are the questions that plague my mind when I consider the ramifications of polygamy on an ever evolving society.  Humanity is evolving into a new way of being based in love and compassion for the whole human family. How does this play out on the subject of polygamy?  How can we support love while penalizing those who use the guise of love to harm and control others?

I am not a legal expert and this is a battle I am not qualified to fight. I will leave the legalities to those who are better equipped, to those who carry the evidence to support their arguments, and to those who are working toward the betterment of humanity.  The best that I can do is to continue to hold those who have been traumatized by this lifestyle in love and compassion and continue to hold myself in the truth that I support love.


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The Dangers of Fundamentalism

Whether it is in religion, business, politics, relationships or all things, Fundamentalism is dangerous to society. Fundamentalism is a means used by individuals and organizations who wish to remain or be in control by clinging desperately to the past. It is used to control the minds, hearts, souls and money of the people and is a key component that prevents us from finding the peace on earth we all seek.

For many the word “fundamentalism” conjures up images of crazed religious lunatics, yet it exists in nearly every organization to some degree. It is most obvious in religion where the stronghold of these massive organizations retain limitless control over the masses of humanity. The stronghold of religious dogma has been responsible for every atrocity known to humankind. We see fundamentalism in the dictatorships and monarchies of our political structures. And we see it the homes where women are not allowed to spend money without asking their husbands for permission.

Fundamentalism of any kind is a massive step backward in our physical, emotional and spiritual evolution. Most people agree that the reason for our mortal experience is to learn, grow and evolve, yet Fundamentalism prevents this very thing. Fundamentalism keeps us trapped individually and collectively in the past and limits our potential for the very reason we exist. Living in the past prevents the flow of creativity and enlightenment that comes from being in the present and looking forward with hope to the future. Fundamentalism limits our ability for flexibility and prevents us from being in full control of our actions and responses in the here and now. It  keeps us stuck in old, stale, limiting beliefs and trapped in an existence we have already moved forward from collectively. Fundamentalism holds us in a lifestyle that has already been proven does not work. By staying in or returning to the old we cannot see what is now and what can be. 

We must continue advancing and moving forward. It is vital that we learn from the past as we see the value in the present and look forward to the future. Many of us are waking up to our individual and collective potential and possibility. We are evolving at lightening speed toward a more peaceful and sustainable global community. Fundamentalism as a whole fears evolution as it attempts to retain its stronghold over humanity. The tightrope of Fundamentalism is splintering and failing as its grip is being brought into the light. It can only be held together for so long before it must give way to the new way. The new enlightened way is building a bridge that uplifts and supports all humanity, rather than the tightrope that has been used to control us.