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It is socially destabilizing when some men have no women to marry

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Polygamy leaves some men with no women to marry; socially destabilizing


  1. Polygamy lowers availability of women to men, increasing demand for prostitution.

Jonathan Rauch. "One Man, Many Wives, Big Problems. The social consequences of polygamy are bigger than you think". April 3, 2006 For the individuals affected, losing the opportunity to marry is a grave, even devastating, deprivation. (Just ask a gay American.) But the effects are still worse at the social level. Sexual imbalance in the marriage market has no good social consequences and many grim ones.

Two political scientists, Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. den Boer, ponder those consequences in their 2004 book Bare Branches: Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population. Summarizing their findings in a Washington Post article, they write: "Scarcity of women leads to a situation in which men with advantages — money, skills, education — will marry, but men without such advantages — poor, unskilled, illiterate — will not. A permanent subclass of bare branches [unmarriageable men] from the lowest socioeconomic classes is created. In China and India, for example, by the year 2020 bare branches will make up 12 to 15 percent of the young adult male population."

The problem in China and India is sex-selective abortion (and sometimes infanticide), not polygamy; where the marriage market is concerned, however, the two are functional equivalents. In their book, Hudson and den Boer note that "bare branches are more likely than other males to turn to vice and violence." To get ahead, they "may turn to appropriation of resources, using force if necessary." Such men are ripe for recruitment by gangs, and in groups they "exhibit even more exaggerated risky and violent behavior." The result is "a significant increase in societal, and possibly intersocietal, violence."

Crime rates, according to the authors, tend to be higher in polygynous societies. Worse, "high-sex-ratio societies are governable only by authoritarian regimes capable of suppressing violence at home and exporting it abroad through colonization or war." In medieval Portugal, "the regime would send bare branches on foreign adventures of conquest and colonization." (An equivalent today may be jihad.) In 19th-century China, where as many as 25 percent of men were unable to marry, "these young men became natural recruits for bandit gangs and local militia," which nearly toppled the government. In what is now Taiwan, unattached males fomented regular revolts and became "entrepreneurs of violence."

Hudson and den Boer suggest that societies become inherently unstable when sex ratios reach something like 120 males to 100 females: in other words, when one-sixth of men are surplus goods on the marriage market. The United States as a whole would reach that ratio if, for example, 5 percent of men took two wives, 3 percent took three wives, and 2 percent took four wives — numbers that are quite imaginable, if polygamy were legal for a while. In particular communities — inner cities, for example — polygamy could take a toll much more quickly. Even a handful of "Solomons" (high-status men taking multiple wives) could create brigades of new recruits for street gangs and drug lords, the last thing those communities need.

Such problems are not merely theoretical. In northern Arizona, a polygamous Mormon sect has managed its surplus males by dumping them on the street -- literally. The sect, reports The Arizona Republic, "has orphaned more than 400 teenagers ... in order to leave young women for marriage to the older men." The paper goes on to say that the boys "are dropped off in neighboring towns, facing hunger, homelessness, and homesickness, and most cripplingly, a belief in a future of suffering and darkness."

Andrea Useem. "What To Expect When You're Expecting a Co-Wife. Why American Muslims don't care to legalize polygamy." July 24, 2007 - "I've been following accounts of polygamous societies ever since I saw an article in the early 1980s about a Kenyan man with 150 wives.

[...]who's missing from this picture? Isn't there somebody else affected? This reporter, like all I've seen since him, forgot the existence of the people who were most definitely damaged by polygamy: namely, the 149 guys who didn't get a wife at all because Mr. Marriage-Minded had married 150. I have been looking in vain for 20 years for an article about polygamy that mentioned that for one man to take a second wife means, in the normal course of things, that another man will get no wife at all.

I have come to believe that this blind spot stems from it being virtually impossible for a man to imagine himself as one of the 149 losers, rather than the one big winner. He might prefer one wife to 150, but his male ego can't allow him to identify with all the men who end up rejected and alone. This psychological quirk creates a reality distortion field in the heads of men."


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