InGeorge Murdock defined polyandry in a seminal text as "unions of one woman with two or more husbands where these [types of union] are culturally favored and involve residential as well as sexual cohabitation. If you write off every exception to a supposed rule, you will never think to challenge the rule. He concludes, "It is clear that these countries will have to do something with all of the excess men, but polyandry will probably not occur as a widespread solution. Indeed, fully three-quarters of the 53 societies identified by Starkweather and Hames involve skewed sex ratios, with more adult males than females.
The systems are socially sanctioned. What kind of environmental conditions?
Well, "classical polyandry" in Asia has allowed families in areas of scarce farmable land to hold agricultural estates together. Hames points out that, "Landowning societies all over the world have faced an excess of men at one point or another and have dealt with this by sending these men to the priesthood, to fight in wars, or to explore or make a name for themselves" elsewhere.
Humans appear prone, on average, to sexual jealousy, and so it would not be unreasonable for many of us—men and women alike—to project an assumption that sexual jealousy would make poly-unions untenable. However, I do think that the definitions of polyandry, and thus perceptions about its rarity, may have been due at least in part to the fact that an overwhelming percentage of anthropologists collecting data and shaping theory at the time were men.
Starkweather and Hames guess not.
Starkweather and Hames suggest anthropology has been accidentally playing a scholarly version of the Telephone Game. Women in such systems are not "cheating" by any stretch of the imagination, nor are the men being cuckolded.
Becerkman's group found that children understood to have two fathers are ificantly more likely to survive to age 15 than children with only one—hence the term "father effect. In an interview with me, Starkweather remarked, "I don't think that anyone, including Murdock, was operating from an explicitly sexist standpoint. Indeed, anthropologists have found that in both polyandry one woman, multiple husbands and polygyny one husband, multiple wivessexual jealousy often functions as a stressor in families around the world.
Starkweather and Hames call this a form of "informal polyandry," because while the two fathers may not be both formally married to and living with the mother in all cases, the society around them officially recognizes both men as legitimate mates to the mother, and father to her. The marriage of all brothers in a family to the same wife allows plots of family-owned land to remain intact and undivided.
So how is it that, in spite of all this evidence of polyandry accumulating steadily in the literature, anthropologists for so long passed along the lookinf virtually non-existent" story? This led me to wonder, in our exchange, whether in places where sex ratios are becoming highly skewed—in places like India and China—is polyandry likely to emerge?
Then there's the "father effect" demonstrated by Penn State's Stephen Beckerman and his colleagues in their study of the Bari people of Venezuela. The COVID Tracking Project Indeed, according to Starkweather and Hames, anthropologists have documented social systems for polyandrous unions "among foragers in a wide variety of lopking ranging from the Arctic to the tropics, and to the desert.
And if she gets impregnated while Husband 1 is gone, it will be by someone of whom he has approved in advance. As odd as it can sound to those of us who know of human development as the one-egg-meets-one-sperm story, some cultures maintain the idea that fetuses develop in the womb as the result of multiple contributions of semen over the course of a pregnancy.
What all these polyandrous situations—classical and non-classical, formal and informal—have in common is that they are all socially recognized systems in which women may openly have multiple mates simultaneously.
So what will happen there? Modern India and China don't look anything like simple egalitarian societies.
The Bari have a system for recognizing two living men as both being fathers of a single. Yet certain environmental circumstances do seem to increase the odds of a culture accepting some form of polyandry. Anthropologists have recorded this kind of situation among certain cultures among lookijg Inuit the people formerly called Eskimos.
Then subsequent scholars mis-repeated Murdock's remark; polyandry went from being understood as "rarely culturally favored" to "rarely permitted. In cultural systems of what Beckerman has named "partible loooking two men can be socially recognized as legitimate fathers of a single.
But this does not mean that the women are in control of the arrangements; in many of the cultures Starkweather and Hames reviewed, the first husband functions as the decider when it comes to resource distribution and acceptance of additional male mates. In particular, Starkweather and Hames find that polyandry is often found in societies with highly skewed "operational sex ratios.
First, most of the cultures in which polyandry is found look very different from modern Looking and China; polyandry shows up mostly in relatively egalitarian societies i.