Polyandry

Polyandry is the rarest ideal form of marriage and occurs primarily in Asia. Because of its rarity, there is less research on it. Just as polygyny is preferentially sororal, polyandry is often preferentially fraternal—a woman marries full brothers or clan brothers. Among the polyan-drous Toda, a dairying caste of India, when the eldest son married a woman, his younger brothers became married to her also. A simple ritual identified the one brother, usually the eldest, who would be the social father of the woman's children (Queen & Habenstein, 1974, pp. 18-47). The conditions conducive to the development of polyandry are believed to be subsistence resource scarcity and male food production (Lee, 1982, pp. 94-95). Fraternal polyandry allows brothers who have inherited land or other resources to cooperate in subsistence production, while limiting their fertility by sharing a wife. The family unit thereby has more resources, more food producers, and fewer dependents.

It seems likely that polyandry is never the most common form of marriage in a society, as polygyny sometimes is when there is high male mortality in warfare or when men marry much later than women. The constraints placed on women's fertility by pregnancy, lactation and nursing, and the menopause would prevent general polyandry from overcoming the problems set into play by a shortage of women or an extremely late age at marriage for them. Rather, fertility decline and depopulation would be the likely result. We need to view polyandry then as an aid to population limitation that develops only when population threatens to outstrip environmental resources.

Thus scholarship has shown that the different forms of marriage are not founded upon differences in the balance of power between women and men or upon religious doctrines. They are not arbitrary cultural inventions, but practical adaptations, developing from a particular set of social and environmental stressors and subsistence practices.

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