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Why One When You Can Have Two?

            A Cross Cultural Perspective of polygyny .
             As an institution, polygyny, the social arrangement that permits a man to have more than one wife at the same time, exists in all parts of the world. From our present knowledge, there are very few primitive tribes in which a man is not allowed to enter into more than one union. In fact, ethnologists now believe that only one to two percent of all species may be monogamous (Tucker 1985). None of the simian species are strictly monogamous; our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, practice a form of group marriage. Among the 849 human societies examined by the anthropologist Murdock (1957), 75% practiced polygyny. Many peoples have been said to be monogamous, but it is difficult to infer from the data at our disposal whether monogamy is the prevalent practice, the moral ideal, or an institution safeguarded by sanctions (Malinowski 1962). Historically, polygyny was a feature of the ancient Hebrews, the traditional Chinese, and the nineteenth-century Mormons in the United States, but the modern practice of polygyny is concentrated in Africa, the Middle East, India, Thailand, and Indonesia.
             The extent to which men are able to acquire multiple wives depends on many factors, including the economic prosperity of the man's family, the prevailing bride price, the differential availability of marriageable females, the need and desire for additional offspring, and the availability of productive roles for subsequent wives. Even in societies that permit polygyny, the conditions of life for the masses make monogamy the most common form of marriage. The two variations of polygyny are sororal (the cowives are sisters) and nonsororal (the cowives are not sisters). Some societies also observe the custom of levirate, making it compulsory for a man to marry his brother's widow. It must be remembered that any form of polygyny is never practiced throughout the entire community: there cannot exist a community in which every man would have several wives because this would entail a huge surplus of females over males (Malinowski 1962).

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