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Why do men prefer polygamy?

Polygamy, specifically polygyny (one man having multiple wives), has been practiced for thousands of years across many cultures. Even today, polygyny is legal and socially accepted in over 50 countries around the world. There are several hypotheses for why the practice of polygyny came about and why some men today continue to prefer or desire multiple wives.

Biological Factors

One major theory is that polygyny arose in humans due to differences in reproductive biology between men and women. Biologically, men are capable of fathering far more children than women can physically bear. This creates an imbalance, with some men unable to find mates while other men can monopolize multiple women. Polygyny helps maximize men’s reproductive success.

Gender Reproductive Capacity
Male Virtually unlimited number of offspring
Female Limited by 9 months gestation per child

The table above illustrates the difference in biological reproductive capability between men and women. A man can impregnate a virtually unlimited number of women, while a woman can only have a child every 9 months.

This difference may explain why some men desire multiple mates – to spread their genes as widely as possible. Evolutionary biology suggests that species are driven to maximize their fitness by passing on genes. For men, polygyny may be an evolutionary advantageous strategy compared to monogamy.

Sexual Desire and Variety

Another biological factor is that men generally have stronger sex drives than women and desire more variety in sexual partners. Polygyny caters to this elevated male sex drive, allowing men to have multiple sexual relationships concurrently.

Some evolutionary psychologists argue polygyny arises from men’s innate mating strategy to obtain large numbers of partners. In contrast, women are more selective – investing more biologically in each child through pregnancy and nursing. Having multiple wives may allow satisfy the male sexual appetite.

Wealth and Power

Throughout history, polygyny has often been associated with high social status, wealth, and power. Kings, nobles, and rich merchants frequently had multiple wives or concubines. The practice was likely driven by a combination of factors:

  • Display of wealth – Ability to support many wives and children
  • Alliances – Marrying daughters of allies and vassals
  • Ensuring heirs – Having sons by multiple women
  • Labor – More wives means more labor for economic production

Wealthy and powerful men were motivated take multiple wives as a sign of prestige, for political reasons, and to gain more children, workers, and heirs to their fortunes.

Even today, some men pursue polygyny as a display of wealth and achievement. Having multiple wives is a status symbol in certain cultures. Though no longer politically necessary, polygyny allows men to show off their resources.

Benefits of Polygyny for Men

Polygyny provides several benefits that may motivate men to desire multiple wives:

Increased Reproduction

As already discussed, men can biologically produce far more offspring with multiple mates. Marrying several women substantially increases a man’s fertility.

While wealthy men can potentially bear many children via mistresses, polygyny legitimizes and recognizes this natural drive for male reproductive success.

Sexual Variety

Men may simply enjoy sexual variety and novelty. Monogamy with one woman for life may not satisfy men’s biological instinct to mate with multiple partners. Polygyny provides sanctioned variety.

Domestic Service

Additional wives means additional women to manage domestic work and child-rearing. Some men may be motivated by the prospect of more help around that house that polygyny provides.

Validation of Masculinity

Historically and today, some cultures associate polygyny with manliness and male success. Being able to financially provide for multiple families demonstrates capability as a man.

Downsides of Polygyny for Men

However, polygyny also comes with downsides that may make it less appealing for men:

Domestic Strife

Multiple wives introduce competition, jealousy, and conflict into the home. Women may resent sharing a husband. The marital home may be less peaceful with rival spouses.

Enumerated Expenses

Even wealthy men may struggle with the multiplied costs of supporting additional wives and children. Each new wife needs her own housing and support.

Balancing Relationships

A polygynous man has divided time and attention between wives. This can lead to neglect, resentment, and potential divorce if he is unable to balance affections appropriately. Monogamy allows a man to focus on a single relationship.

Social Stigma

While still accepted in some cultures, polygyny is illegal and socially frowned upon in most modern societies. Men who desire multiple wives face social disapproval.

Why Some Men are Content with Monogamy

Despite the biological arguments, many men across cultures and history have been satisfied with monogamy. Several factors likely contribute to monogamy being the norm in modern society:

Cultural Norms

Social and religious traditions heavily promote monogamous marriage in Western cultures. American men in particular grow up expecting monogamy as the norm.


Polygyny was historically limited to wealthy men who could afford multiple wives. Average men lacked the means to provide for extra families. Monogamy evolved as the common practice.

Women’s Rights

As women gained more rights and autonomy in society, acceptance of polygyny declined. Monogamous marriage recognizes women’s status and desires more.

Romantic Love

Cultural shifts toward marrying for love and companionship made monogamy more attractive. Focus moved to marital quality over quantity.

Domestic Peace

Many men recognize that addition wives may introduce family discord. The simplicity of monogamy has its own appeal.


In summary, several theories help explain the origins of polygynous marriage practices and why some men still desire multiple wives today:

– Differences in reproductive capacity maximized male fitness in evolutionary history.

– Variety in mates caters to higher male sex drive.

– Display of status, wealth, and power motivated polygyny among elite men.

– Males can gain increased fertility, variety, domestic help, and masculine validation from multiple wives.

However, costs like domestic strife, expenses, divided attention, and social stigma also accompany polygyny. Monogamy appeals to many modern men due to cultural conditioning, economics, romantic love, and practical domestic peace.

While polygyny is likely to remain present in certain cultures, monogamy will also continue as the dominant marriage form in most modern societies. The future will see a continued diversity of practices balancing both biological and cultural drivers.