What’s wrong with polygamy?

Polygamy makes perfect sense to many rich men in poorer countries but it is bad for the economy overall, according to a report called The Mystery of Monogamy by three economists.

The study, published recently by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, argues that mass polygamy, which still exists in sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt and Thailand, can make it hard for economies "to break out of the poverty trap".

The practice, it says, allows rich men "to spend their money on quantity rather than investing in child quality" and stretches a wealthy man’s resources across a larger number of children.

The authors also argue that the practice has only died out in the west because it no longer makes economic sense for the middle classes, who can no longer afford more than one wife.

Read more here.  Here is the paper in html, I can’t get the pdf versions to open (addendum: try this one).

My take: I am not convinced.  Polygamy does not contradict the idea of quality children, relative to available alternatives: the kids get papa’s good genes and full-time attention from mama.  Keep in mind if this is worse on average than other options, women won’t want the deal.  If there is a social cost from polygamy, it more likely stems from the young men who cannot find wives and resort to violence and risky behavior.  Polygamy ends when children cease to be a net economic asset.  As society progresses and urbanizes, there are cheaper ways of having sex with multiple women, if that is one’s goal. 


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