There are only 2 countries in the Middle East where polygamy is illegal: Israel and Turkey.

There are only 2 countries in the Middle East that are true democracies: Israel and Turkey. Lebanon is controlled by Hezbollah. Egypt and the rest is recent.

Has it always been like this?

Notice that Indonesia allow polygamy for Muslims, even though it's a democracy. However, thugs often enforce power and it's still very politically incorrect. Also Arab males that engage in contract marriage sometimes get kicked out if found out (even though it's legal). So it's so politically incorrect you still can't practice it openly unless you're a person with some form of influence or control.

The idea is that certain resources, such as women, land, organ, and even "excessive happiness" are too precious that people are willing to kill to get it. Hence, most societies do not easily commercialize them. Those resources are divided proportional to political power. In democratic countries, one man one vote soon lead to one man one wife.

Some article supporting it: http://www.salon.com/2011/07/23/monogamy_4/

That’s not a link I’d want to make too strongly, but it has been argued by historians that monogamy precedes, and then seems to go along with, the emergence of democratic ideals. In the Western tradition, the earliest we can trace laws about monogamy is actually to Athens when the first notions of democracy began to be instituted. The argument is that it’s meant to create equality among citizens so that, essentially, there’ll be wives available to all Athenian men, rather than having all the rich men take many wives. Although, men were still allowed to have slave concubines just so as long as they were non-Athenian women.

You can think of it as a first kind of effort to level the playing field. By saying that both the king and the peasant can only have one wife each, it’s the first step toward saying that all men were created equal.

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    Out of the 190 countries in the world, any particular reason to look at only two? And any sources to back up your claims of democracy or lack of it would be good too. – apoorv020 Dec 14 '11 at 9:52
  • Some other democratic countries that allow polygamy (in some form or other) : India, Pakistan*, Bangladesh. – apoorv020 Dec 14 '11 at 10:17
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    Marriage laws in India are dependent upon the religion of the subject in question. Although the Vedas and the Hindu religion itself do not outlaw polygamy, the terms under the Hindu Marriage Act has deemed polygamy to be illegal for Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs. Only Muslim men in India are allowed to have multiple wives, since they are governed under Sharia law. - Technically allowed but politically incorrect. – user4951 Dec 14 '11 at 10:32
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    yea. I would say from 0 to 100%, India prohibition to polygamy is 80%. Just like in US you can have polyarmory if you don't rub it out on their nose. So US is like 90% too. – user4951 Dec 14 '11 at 10:37
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    What is "true democracy" in your definition? – Anixx Jul 31 '12 at 5:01

Evolutionary Psychology perspective

Polygamy is beneficial to

  • the "desirable" men (i.e., men with power/status/wealth who can attract multiple mates) and
  • "generic" women (i.e., women who cannot hope to monopolize a "desirable" man, but who can benefit from "upgrading" from being the one and only wife of a good-for-nothing bum to being the 7th wife of a rich man; this is an "upgrade" because a small share of a big fortune can be more than almost nothing).

At the very least the option (for men: taking an additional wife; for women: "upgrading") improves their negotiating power in marriage.

Note that polygamy leaves many "generic" men without a mate (and without even a hope of getting one) which puts them in a desperate position (leading to very risky behavior).

Historical perspective

A promise of enforcing monogamy gives hope to the mass of "generic" males and thus is an extremely profitable move for any revolutionary in a polygamous society.

Observe that both Jesus and Muhammad used this move: Christianity outlawed polygamy completely, while Islam limited the number of wives to 4 and gave the promise of conquered women to the mujaheddin (jihad participants).

Current situation

What really matters is not the legality of polygamy, but its availability. If a "desirable" man can have an "official" mistress and no one bats an eye, then the society can be considered to be de facto polygamous.

I would expect more correlation between the spread of polygamy (measured by, e.g., Gini index of number of women / men or the entropy of the distribution) and the violent crime rate (which is mostly perpetrated by males), because, as I already mentioned, men without a hope for a mate tend to engage in extremely risky behavior in the off-chance of radically changing their status.

The crime rate, however, can be moderated by an oppressive government or given an outlet in military adventures, so the formula would be something like

glm(crime ~ polygamy + oppression + aggression)

Here glm stands for, as DVK guessed, generalized linear model. In other words, if we build a regression model

crime ~ A + B * polygamy + C * oppression + D * aggression

and I conjecture

A > 0
B > 0
C < 0
D < 0

This, of course, should not imply that that there are no other possible predictors, e.g., the economic inequality as expressed as, e.g., Gini index, is probably positively correlated with crime, while general wealth negatively.

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  • Amazing answer and analysis! Could you please expand on what glm means in-text (I'm assuming generalized linear model?) – DVK Jul 31 '14 at 23:18
  • Jesus never prohibits polygamy either – user4951 Sep 1 '14 at 11:16

prohibition of polygamy most certainly doesn't correlate with democracy.

  • Polygamy was prohibited in the entire Christendom throughout Dark Ages and absolute monarchies - not exactly the best circumstances for Democracy. Same with USSR and Nazi Germany.

  • On the other side of the matter, modern western democracies and USA are fairly obviously evolving into societies where polygamy will soon be legal (never mind practiced - what with French and their fabled stables of mistresses :))). I don't mean to sound like a homophobic zealot, but looking at things from legal standpoint, if you legalize marriage between ANY non-monogamic heterosexual couple (like, say, legalizing gay marriage), there is very little legal ground not to legalize any other marital arrangements.

    As a matter of fact, BDSMish subcultures practice poly* arrangements nearly openly these days.

As to whether prohibition of polygamy is necessary for democracy, that is less clear. I'm not aware of any research supporting or refuting this, but a fairly plausible argument can be made that any culture which has polygamy (and not polyamory) might be LESS likely to be democratic in historic context, since in a true democracy, with average male/female distribution, the non-mated males would at some point organize and vote in the prohibition (unless they are explicitly excluded from franchise).

Also, as a side note, please don't confuse democracy with things that kinda look like democracy (hint: Egypt may have had elections, doesn't necessarily make it a democracy, 95% of the power is split between the military and Muslim Brotherood. Oh, and USSR used to have those nice democratic elections all the time).

Also, don't confuse "democracy for some" with what you may think of as democracy. While franchise restriction always exists and will exist (e.g., any society would likely stop convicted killers from voting), you can for example have extremely-limited-franchise democracy like city states of Ancient Greece (VERY VERY few people were entitled to a vote, none of them women, and few of them with no access to mates).

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    "modern western democracies and USA are fairly obviously evolving into societies where polygamy will soon be legal" - I'm not sure where you get this and your straw man argument of legalized marriage has never been proven. If you remove this I think your answer stands up better, otherwise it is argumentative and speculative. – MichaelF Dec 12 '11 at 12:03
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    @MichaelF - moreover, that argument is pretty important to my answer, since it's the best example that a modernt democracy like OP meant can very well have legalized polygamy. – DVK Dec 12 '11 at 15:22
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    @DVK: My understanding was that Nazi Germany was planning to implement polygamy after they won the war, because they had lost so many men, and there weren't enough "Germans" to go around. Of course, it never got the that point. – Tom Au Dec 12 '11 at 15:26
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    @DVK, it's hardly a personal attack. Legalizing Gay Marriage is not going to lead to polygamy. If you want to believe that it's up to you, but there is no causal link between the two. Nor have I seen any evolution towards polygamy in Western Democracies, if you have evidence show that but as I said it is out of sorts with the rest of your answer which I have no problems with. – MichaelF Dec 12 '11 at 15:47
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    @T.E.D. - simple. I can randomly find tons of poly families in kink subculture that are fairly open about it. NONE of them have ever been in any trouble with the law over it in the last 20 years. If you want specific legal proof, short of 5+ Supreme Court justices saying so, nobody can prove it to you either way. I can ask around for legal opinions but they won't mean squat. – DVK Jul 3 '12 at 21:24

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