Why are some societies polygamous, others monogamous?

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Humans differ in paternal investment — the degree to which fathers help mothers care for their offspring. They differ in this way between individuals, between populations, and between stages of cultural evolution.

During the earliest stage, when all humans were hunter-gatherers, men invested more in their offspring with increasing distance from the equator. Longer, colder winters made it harder for women to gather food for themselves and their children. They had to rely on meat from their hunting spouses. Conversely, paternal investment was lower in the tropics, where women could gather food year-round and provide for themselves and their children with little male assistance.

This sexual division of labor influenced the transition to farming. In the tropics, women were the main providers for their families as gatherers of fruits, berries, roots, and other wild plant foods. They were the ones who developed farming, thereby biasing it toward domestication of wild plants.

And so women shouldered even more the burden of providing for themselves and their offspring. Men in turn found it easier to go back on the mate market and get second or third wives. Finally, men had to compete against each other much more for fewer unmated women.

There was thus a causal chain: female dominance of farming => female reproductive autonomy => male polygyny => male-male rivalry for access to women.

Read full, original post: Polygyny Makes Men Bigger, Tougher…And Meaner

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