Nav: Home

Concentrated wealth in agricultural populations may account for the decline of polygyny

July 17, 2018

Across small-scale societies, the practice of some males taking multiple wives is thought to be associated with extreme disparities of wealth. But in fact, polygyny has been more common among relatively egalitarian low-tech horticulturalists than in highly unequal, capital-intensive agricultural societies. This surprising fact is known as the polygyny paradox, and a new study from the Santa Fe Institute's Dynamics of Wealth Inequality Project provides a possible resolution of the puzzle.

The team used a new model developed along with Seung-Yun Oh (Korea Insurance Research Institute), in which both men and women make marital choices to maximize the number of surviving children they raise. The model was tested on data gathered from 11,813 individuals' wealth, marriage, and reproductive success in 29 diverse societies.

Their main finding is that where wealth is highly concentrated, few men are wealthy enough to afford more than a single wife, and the very wealthy, while often polygynous, do not take on wives in proportion to their wealth.

Cody Ross (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology), a former Santa Fe Institute postdoctoral fellow along with Santa Fe Institute Professor Samuel Bowles and University of California anthropologist Monique Borgerhoff Mulder led the team of 34 anthropologists and economists conducting the study.

"In many capital-intensive farming societies," Bowles explained, "there are so few sufficiently wealthy men that unless they were to have a truly extraordinary number of wives, only a small fraction of all women will be married polygynously."

Like previous studies, including those by Laura Fortunato (Santa Fe Institute, University of Oxford) and others, the model developed by the team takes account of the fact that taking on additional wives reduces the amount of a male's material wealth -- land, cattle, equipment -- available to each wife.

But the new study showed that the impediments to polygyny even among the very rich went way beyond the need to share the male's wealth among rival wives. "This is what really surprised us," said Borgerhoff Mulder. "Our estimates show that a very rich man with four wives will have far fewer kids than two men with two wives and with the same total wealth divided between them."
-end-


Santa Fe Institute

Related Wealth Articles:

Those who believe that the economic system is fair are less troubled by poverty, homelessness, and extreme wealth
We react less negatively to extreme manifestations of economic disparity, such as homelessness, if we think the economic system is fair and legitimate, and these differences in reactivity are even detectable at the physiological level, finds a team of psychology researchers.
High wealth inequality linked with greater support for populist leaders
People who live or think they live in a more economically unequal society may be more supportive of a strong, even autocratic leader, a large-scale international study shows.
Wealth can lead to more satisfying life if viewed as a sign of success vs. happiness
A new study featuring researchers at Binghamton University, State University of New York found that viewing wealth and material possessions as a sign of success yields significantly better results to life satisfaction than viewing wealth and possessions as a sign of happiness.
Global study links better education, wealth to improved heart health
Findings from a sweeping global study conducted by SFU Health Sciences professor Scott Lear, among others, reveal a direct correlation between socioeconomic status and one's susceptibility to heart attacks and strokes.
Hyperspectral camera captures wealth of data in an instant
Rice University scientists and engineers develop a portable spectrometer able to capture far more data much quicker than other fiber-based systems.
Family matters for future wealth
New research, for the first time using actual income numbers from two generations of Australians, reveals they do not easily move from low-income to high-income bands, however mobility is greater than the US.
Racial wealth inequality overlooked as cause of urban unrest, study says
More than 50 years ago, riots tore through many U.S.
Natural disasters widen racial wealth gap
Damage caused by natural disasters and recovery efforts launched in their aftermaths have increased wealth inequality between races in the United States, according to new research from Rice University and the University of Pittsburgh.
Study: Student loans hamper wealth accumulation among black, Hispanic adults
Graduating college with student loan debt hampers wealth accumulation and asset building among black, Hispanic adults much longer than previously thought -- at least until age 30, University of Illinois social work professor Min Zhan found in a new study co-written with Illinois alumna Xiaoling Xiang, now a professor of social work at the University of Michigan.
Concentrated wealth in agricultural populations may account for the decline of polygyny
Polygyny has been more common among relatively egalitarian low-tech horticulturalists than in highly unequal, capital-intensive agricultural societies.
More Wealth News and Wealth Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.