The Biological Imperative of Polygyny

In his excellent post Dateonomics, our friend Taylor talks about the sociological argument for polygyny (one man having multiple wives), especially in the context of the mainstream LDS Church. Here I’d like to talk about the biological argument for polygyny.

If you assume that the main biological goal of a species is to reproduce, then – bluntly speaking – females are much more valuable than males. If a woman (or a female animal, more broadly) does not have children for whatever reason (early death, infertility, intentional childlessness, etc.), those 8 or 10 or however many children she could have had can never be recouped or recovered and the children those children would have had can never be recouped or recovered, either. It is a permanent loss to the species as a whole.

On the other hand, if a man (or a male animal) does not have children, that does not mean that there have to be any fewer children total. Any of the other males could step in for him. A man could have 1,000 children. Most women could reasonably have 10 or 15 at the most, and though there are some women who could have more, none of those outliers even fleetingly approaches the number of children an average man could have. A species is limited in its generations by the female members of that species. And yet there are a roughly equal number of men and women in the world. The result? Superfluous men. The women are not biologically dispensable, but most of the men are. You see this in other species, too. You only need one ram per some forty or fifty ewes1, and only one rooster per ten hens2.

Females being biologically indispensable is one of the reasons forced monogamy is such a tragedy. Ideally, from a biological perspective, every woman would have children. There are slightly more men than women world-wide (in the under 65 age bracket)3, and so you’d think that it would all work out just fine. However, there are more “unmarriageable” men than there are “unmarriageable” women, which skews the demographics of decent people under 65 in the other direction – there are more decent women than decent men.

Let me explain. 

Men are much more likely4 to commit violent crimes than are women. If you assume that few people would want to marry a violent criminal, this takes many more men out of the running, so to speak, than it does women. 

If we assume that not many people would want to marry someone with an abnormally low IQ, this takes more men than women out of the running, too. More men than women have genius-level IQs (seven out of every eight people who score in the top 1% on IQ tests are men), but there are also more men than women who have idiot-level IQs5,6. The mean intelligence is the same or nearly so, but the distribution (or you could say, standard deviation) is wider for men than for women.

All this is to say that if you took all the decent men and all the decent women (mind you, in this case I’m using decent to mean marriageable – for the purposes of this post that means someone who is not a violent criminal and does not have a very low IQ – without any of the moral implications that the word decent often has) and paired them off, you would be left with extra women who, in a strictly monogamous society, would likely be doomed to spinsterhood and childlessness, thereby forever depriving the human race of the children they could have had, or else go and marry a low-quality man. They may feel forced into such a marriage for the sake of having children, but issues can (and often do) arise with the children of low-quality men, leaving us to conclude that this is also not ideal.

Additionally, from a primitive, biological standpoint, there are likely to end up being  fewer men left than women due to conflicts. For the entire history of humanity, with a very few exceptions, men have been the warriors. This makes a lot of sense, as the average man is stronger, faster, and better mentally suited (more aggressive and better able to compartmentalize things) for war than the average woman. This works out just fine, as the women in a primitive situation would spend much of their time in a less-than ideal situation for soldiering due to pregnancy, breastfeeding, and/or needing to care for young children. However, this means that in conflicts (which have been around as long as we have), more men end up dying than women do. This can have significant, even drastic impacts on the overall ratio of men to women, such as in the Soviet Union after WWII, when there were only 4 men per 5 women7. (In Soviet Russia, proper, it was even more dramatic, with 3 men per 4 women8.)

The solution from a biological perspective? Allow some of the decent men to marry multiple decent women, enough to take care of the surplus of women and simultaneously maximize the genetic potential (and number of children) of the group as a whole.

This surplus of decent women is one of the reasons that polyandry (the practice of one woman having multiple husbands) is a biologically unjustifiable practice, in my opinion. There is already a relative shortage of decent men. Why exacerbate the problem by allowing one woman to hog limited resources when one man would work just as well, biologically speaking?

Another reason polyandry is biologically unjustifiable is the uncertain paternity of the children. A woman has the advantage of being able to be completely and utterly certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that a child she thinks is hers truly is. A man has no such privilege. He may be intellectually sure that a child is his, but there is no biological surety he can have. (Obviously now there are genetic tests that can determine paternity, but historically – and biologically speaking – that has not been the case.)  People naturally want to take care of their own children. In a polyandrous relationship, on the surface it seems wonderful. The children can have a mother figure and multiple father figures. There’s much talk about how the lack of a father figure leads to all sorts of ills, so surely having multiple would be even better, right?

Except it doesn’t quite work like that. In polyandry, none of the men is sure that the child is his, (although there could be exceptions to this, such in the case of the male partners in the polyandrous relationship being different races) and so none of them fully act like a father. It is similar to the bystander effect9, which is when people are more likely not to act in an emergency (call 911, help someone who is struggling) if there are other people present, because they assume the other people will instead. Instead of the child of polyandry having multiple strong father figures, they are likely to wind up having none. An additional downside is that having multiple stepfathers is dangerous for children.  Studies have shown that stepfathers are many times more likely to assault10, abuse11, and even kill12 their stepchildren than biological fathers are. This is called the “Cinderella effect13”.  Although there does not seem to be much research on the “Cinderella effect” specifically in the context of polyandry, I think that it is likely present to at least some extent.

In contrast, in a polygynous marriage, the parents of each child are clear. Each child has one committed, invested father and one committed, invested mother, and additional mother figures who are not primarily responsible for the child but are still interested in their success.

The biological imperative for polygyny shows up in other places as well. A study done by the dating app OkCupid shows that women on their site rate 80% of men on their site as being below average in attractiveness13. Obviously that data could be skewed, but it is still reflective of the fact that women, as a whole, are choosier than men are when it comes to selecting a partner. (For comparison, in the same study, men rate 50% of women as below average and 50% of women as above average in attractiveness – exactly what you would expect.)

From a biological perspective, this makes sense. If a woman is going to invest 9 months of pregnancy and (in a primitive setting) at least a year of breastfeeding into one of her children, she’s naturally going to want to be choosy as to who the father is. In a primitive setting, she would want or need the protection of a strong, capable man while she is especially vulnerable during pregnancy and postpartum, and she doesn’t want to (nor does it make sense to) spend that much of her life on the offspring of a loser. Her best chance at long-term genetic success is to have children with a beautiful, strong, intelligent man so they (her children) will be beautiful, strong, and intelligent as well, thereby maximizing their chances for genetic success and so forth.

Hence women want the top 20% of men, and if polygyny is allowed, every woman can have a man in the top 20%, rather than settling for someone inferior. Biologically, 20 men to every 100 women is a workable number if polygamy is allowed, and this promotes many high-quality children, the biological goal for all species. The strongest, most capable men get the most breeding rights. They have strong children, and the species as a whole prospers.

To sum up: the biological goal of any species (divorced from any morality or ethics) is to reproduce as prolifically and successfully as possible, with a maximal number of strong, healthy children. In order to do this, you need to maximize the number of female members of that species who are  having children, as they are the gatekeepers for the total number of children in any given generation. In a society where only monogamy is allowed, there end up being extra females who cannot have children due to the lack of a mate. The natural solution is to allow at least some polygyny so that the species does not shortchange itself in the coming generation.

And that is the biological case for polygyny.

Introducing the Mormon Renegade’s Wife

Hello, everyone. I am new at this so please bear with me. 

I would like to introduce myself a little for those of you that do not know me. My name is Amber Sanders. My husband, myself, and my sisterwife live in Utah. David and I have been married now for 27½ years. We have 6 children: 2 are married and have their own families, 2 young adult children live at home, and our 2 youngest just turned 17 years old. David was just sealed to Tonya, my sisterwife, in February. 

I was raised in the LDS Church, but was never very active. David was a convert to the LDS Church in June of 1995. We raised our kids in the Church but to this day none of them attend the LDS Church. This is mostly due to the way they were treated by the kids in our ward when they were young. But we did raise our kids to be their own thinkers and not to lean on others for opinions and such. So I am grateful that they are all on the paths that they want to be on for themselves. 

We have lived in many places including Idaho, Maryland, North Dakota, and now Utah. Our journey in Fundamentalism started about 13 or 14 years ago. We have been mostly independent until a couple years ago we joined The Branch.

I work full-time from home for an advocate company helping disabled people with their disability claims. In my spare time I like to make quilts and watch TV crime shows like NCIS, Criminal Minds, and FBI. I also like to spend as much time with my grandkids and kids as possible. Some of my favorite things besides my grandkids would be sitting on the beach and watching the waves and smelling the ocean air; being on a quiet mountainside enjoying the view and the sounds of nature; fall is my favorite season, and yes I do love pumpkins; snowmen (my kids say I have a slight obsession with these); butterflies; and sunflowers. 

My sisterwife Tonya just recently joined our family, and is having neck surgery so she does not work. She and I have been friends for several years. It has been a blessing having her as part of our family finally. And I will go more into this later on. 

My husband, David, is a land surveyor by day and by night most people would know him as the Mormon Renegade.  He has been a Surveyor for 25+ years now. He started his podcast around a year ago I guess, and it just keeps getting bigger all the time. He is working on some new stuff so if you follow him stay tuned for a new look coming soon. He talks about anything from religion, politics, to even one on weightlifting I believe. But mostly religious topics and secondly politics. 

I would like to talk about plural marriage in today’s society and a little on how we live it and our experience with it.

With my husband’s podcast we hear things from listeners and get questions such as:

  • How can you live this life?
  • How does your household work?
  • How do your wives deal with jealousy issues?
  • What are some benefits (outside of your religious beliefs) to living plural marriage?

I will answer a few of the more family-oriented questions and ones that can be a bit more personal.

To start out, I am not a huge scripture person: I am not one that can spout off a scripture or tell you who said a certain comment.  But I do know the things that are taught are the true gospel and I do have a strong testimony of Celestial or Plural Marriage.

David and I were in a plural marriage years ago for a few years that did not work out. We were not part of any group; we were independents at the time. I do not and will not talk about that relationship.  But that is when we were first introduced to the thought of plural marriage. 

Just a brief explanation on how it first came about. It was actually myself that had brought this up to David. I was reading Doctrine & Covenants 132 and then the Manifesto, and as I went over these I had a question for David. This ended up turning into David doing more of a deep dive into the Principle of plural marriage and more studying. We talked about it and prayed about it and both came to the conclusion that we were to be living plural marriage. Out of our control, that marriage did not last. 

For the next several years David and I talked to many different fundamentalists and groups, and in the meantime we continued attending the LDS Church. We always felt like something was missing within our family and with the gospel. 

After joining The Branch about a year and a half ago, the missing gospel piece has seemed to be filled. In October we were reunited with Tonya, whom we have known for around ten years.

When I first met Tonya several years ago, she and I connected in a very spiritual way. This is the best way I can describe it, but unfortunately the timing of things was not right. I knew back then that someday she would join my family. I didn’t know when or how but I knew someday she would. 

Over the years we have kept in touch. She would keep us updated on events in her life, or would just reach out to say thanks for being there when she needed a friend. She had let David know she went through the LDS temple not too long ago and again thanked us for all we had done and taught her about the gospel. 

Then she heard David’s podcast and she reached out in October to let him know she had heard it and really liked it and just wanted to catch up. Well, the rest is history: she is now part of our family and I couldn’t be happier.

Now, living plural marriage isn’t for everyone, and not all will be called to live it. But I know and have testimony that we have been called to live this principle.

For every family, how their family lives is all different. In some families, the wives will each have their own homes within the same areas, and in some, they will live in the same house. This all depends on the couples and also the resources they have.

For myself, I have always felt a strong sense of wanting my family to all be together under one roof. We are lucky enough to have a home at this time that accommodates that. We each have our own bedrooms and share the rest of the house.

I feel it is important to be able to be friends with your sisterwife. And I am again lucky to have that with Tonya. We were able to bond all those years ago and have been able to strengthen that bond over the last several months.

I feel it is important that we can learn from each other. Where Tonya has not been in a family situation like ours before, there are things that I have been able to teach her and work on together with her for our home. These moments are not only important teaching moments but precious moments to cherish.

People ask about jealousy issues.  This is a hard one because if you say there is never any jealousy you are not only lying to yourself but to your loved ones. But I will say that when you know that you are living in a plural marriage because you have been called to do so by God, the sting is less hurtful. I think one of the best things that has helped us thus far is to always let each other know how we are feeling. Or if we have an issue with something, to not hold it in and fester on it, but to talk to one another about it so the issue can be worked out. And most of the time it ends up being a simple fix or misunderstanding of some sort. So I would have to say just like that line of communication is important with your Heavenly Father, It is also important with your spouse and sisterwife.

What are some benefits (outside of your religious beliefs) to plural marriage? On this, I would have to say, the friendship that you build with your sisterwife is one of the biggest for me. Not all that live it are able to have this. I am so grateful that I have a strong friendship with my sisterwife.

Others are things like strengthening the family. I do believe that plural marriage should only be lived for religious beliefs. Anything outside of that is not of God and if it is not being lived for the correct purposes then it is not right.

The last question and the most important one: How can you live this lifestyle? I have touched on this some already. But to sum it up, we have been commanded to live in plural marriage. In Doctrine & Covenants 132 God gives us this commandment and explains the law to us. Although some people believe that we are no longer to live it, I stand to believe that we have a never-changing God. He will not command us one day to do one thing then turn around the next and tell us something different. He is a steady and never-changing Being. 

I bear testimony that if we follow these commandments and are called to live this law, that we can be happy in our choices and that we can all learn to love our sisterwives and each other. I bear testimony that I know the Law of Celestial Marriage is correct and I am glad I have the opportunity to live it.