It is important to distinguish between polygyny as an ideal state of marriage and polygyny as a practice, and to distinguish subtypes of polygyny. While all highly industrialized societies legitimize monogamy only (Goode, 1967), traditional cultures have preferred polygyny over other types of marriage by a wide margin (Murdock, 1949). Despite this widespread ideal, the typical marriage in many, if not most, "polygynous" societies is monogamous. Indeed, Murdock (1949, p. 28) put the dividing line between the frequent and infrequent practice of polygyny at only 20% of marriages in a society. He labeled these general and limited polygyny, respectively. This low frequency occurs in part because men ordinarily marry only one wife at a time but may accumulate more over a lifetime, and because polygyny requires more wives than husbands. A balanced sex ratio stands in the way of widespread polygyny. Some societies, such as the Tiwi of Australia, offset the age at first marriage for women and men, delaying men's first marriage until they are past 30 years of age. Under this condition, the majority of marriages may be polygynous (Hart & Pilling, 1960). In the New World, sororal polygyny, in which cowives must be sisters of the same clan, is most commonly preferred (White, 1988). Restricting cowives to close kin puts further restrictions on the frequency of polygynous practice.

While naive libertarians might assume that polygy-nous sexuality involves multiple simultaneous partners, most cultures have stringent regulations which have been interpreted as reducing sexual rivalry and jealousy among cowives (Murdock, 1949, p. 30) but also as preventing cowives from organizing against the husband (Blumberg & Pilar Garcia, 1977, pp. 137-139). These regulations include the following:

1. The senior wife has authority over the others. This provides a mechanism for dispute resolution, and may aid the husband in controlling the wives.

2. The wives either live, eat, and sleep separately, or are preferentially sisters. Separate residences reduce the interaction and interdependence among cowives, thereby abating the potential for conflict. Some authors believe that sisters are less likely to disagree than women who enter the marriage as strangers to each other.

3. The wives take turns with the husband. Polygynous husbands and wives do not sleep, eat, recreate, and have sex all together, but most cultures specify a period of rotation in which the husband spends time with each wife in turn. In this sense, polygy-nous interaction in many cultures is analogous to monogamous interaction—one on one—but in a serial manner.

Research on the structural and environmental sources of polygyny as a frequent practice has identified several important factors. First, general polygyny is most common in Africa, where it is associated with female food production (White, 1988; White & Burton, 1988). Rather than fitting the male-provider-female-caregiver concept, cowives both provide and prepare the food in these societies while also caring for infants and young children. In this way, polygyny is not necessarily a drain on a husband's resources, but may be a source of wealth and status. A secondly line of research considers the sex ratio problem and asks whether general polygyny might be linked to a shortage of men, finding that general polygyny tends to appear in cultures having extensive male deaths in warfare (Ember, 1974, 1985). Polygyny, then, may be an adaptive practice which keeps fertility at high enough levels to replenish the population. If monogamy were rigorously practiced under these conditions, many women would be unable to find husbands or have offspring, and population might shrink. A third, sociobiological, line of research ties polygyny to pathogens such as malaria. With pathogen stress, it is argued, people may want to select mates who have some pathogen resistence and may want offspring who vary in genetic make up since pathogen resistance may be easily recognizable. Nonsororal polygynous marriage provides a way for men to have offspring by different mates, thus increasing their genetic diversity of offspring (Low, 1990).

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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