Forms of Marriage

Marriage in all cultures sanctions a tie between persons of opposite sex, but some cultures add to this that some marriages can be between people of the same sex (Cadigan, 1998; Fulton & Anderson, 1992). The heterosexual component will be the focus here. Marriages can involve one or more males and one or more females. Thus there are four logical possibilities. These types, and their frequencies as ideal forms of marriage among preindus-trial societies, are (Pasternak, Ember, & Ember, 1997, p. 86, adapted from Murdock 1949, 1967):

monogamy—one wife and one husband, 16% polygyny—two or more wives with one husband, 83.5% polyandry—two or more husbands with one wife, 0.5% group marriage—two or more husbands with two or more wives, 0.0%

Although a topic of speculation within 19th century cultural evolutionary theory, group marriage has never been observed as the ideal or the typical form of marriage in any culture. It only seems to occur as an alternate or secondary form of marriage in some cultures (Murdock, 1949, p. 24).

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