Andrew George Thomas, PhD.

Polygyny in monogamous cultures


In over 95% of cultures, men are permitted to marry more than one woman. This is called a polygynous relationship. Given the marked consistency in this mating arrangement, and the fact that almost all extant hunter gatherer societies (often used as a model for ancestral human societies) permit polygyny, it may well be the case that polygynous relationships have been present throughout human evolution. If this is the case, then we may find that modern humans possess psychological adaptations which evolved to facilitate polygynous mating. We may also expect these adaptations to be present among those raised in cultures where polygyny is forbidden.

As part of our research, we are establishing whether UK men and women have polygynous preferences despite social and legal deterrents that stop them from acting upon them. It appears as if no such investigation has been conducted before. Within the evolutionary psychological literature, there is a large body of research into the qualitative differences between short-term (promiscuous) and long-term (committed) relationships. However, polygyny does not fit neatly into either category. Is polygyny an extension of long-term mating, or a method of mixing short- with long-term mating?

Outside of evolutionary psychology, the polygynous tendencies of men may be of interest to those studying sexual health and relationship wellbeing. If there is an evolved tendency for some individuals to favour polygyny, and they find themselves unable to realise this desire, then this may partially explain the high prevalence of infidelity and marital dissolution found in some societies.

Thomas-lab researchers currently exploring this issue

  • TDC

  • Publications related to this research area

    Alvergne, A., Faurie, C., & Raymond, M. (2009). Variation in testosterone levels and male reproductive effort: Insight from a polygynous human population. Horm Behav, 56(5), 491-497. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2009.07.013

    Mulder, M. (1992). Women’s strategies in polygynous marriage. Human Nature, 3(1), 45-70. doi: 10.1007/bf02692266

    Speizer, I. (1995). Men's desire for additional wives and children. Social Biology, 42(3-4), 199-213.