Standard Cross-Cultural Sample: The Polygyny Page

Douglas R. White, University of California, Irvine
Sexual Divsion of Labor

Abstract. A new set of codes is offered to begin to unpack the dimensions of polygyny. Included are measures of frequency and statistical distributions of multiple wives, cultural rules, residential arrangements and kin relations among co-wives, male stratification, and marriage of captured women. Problems of coding and measurement are extensively illustrated. A series of hypotheses is supported regarding two types of polygyny: wealth-increasing and sororal. In the first, women's labor generates wealth and (if warfare allows) female captives are taken as secondary wives. Here polygyny stratifies males by wealth and most men are able to become polygynists with age. Residential autonomy of wives is an elaboration of this pattern. The second is marked by coresidence of husband and wives and dependence of the family mostly on resources generated by the husband. Here polygyny is usually dependent on the exceptional productivity of particular men such as hunters or shamans. The regional-historical adaptations of these types differ markedly. Neither fits the model of resource-defense polygyny found in other species. Explanations of polygyny, particularly of the first type, require close attention to resource and demographic flows within regional ecologies. The second type requires further functional and historical analysis. Both require more consideration of the way polygyny operates from the female point of view, a task only partially begun here.

Abstract. We discuss and test competing explanations for polygyny based on household economics, malecentered kin groups, warfare, and environmental characteristics. Data consist of codes for 142 societies from the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample, including new codes for polygyny and environmental characteristics. An explanatory model is tested for the worldwide sample using regression analysis, and then replicated with regional samples. We obtain convergent results with two different measures of polygyny, cultural rules for men's marriages and the percentage of women married polygynously. We conclude that the best predictors of polygyny are fraternal interest groups, warfare for capture of women, absence of constraints on expansion into new lands, and environmental quality and homogeneity.