Monday, March 27, 2006


Having seen an interesting movie, Berbagi Suami (sharing one husband), below I list some interesting discussions on polygamy.

But first off, let's clarify some terms. Many people (including that movie) think "polygamy" as "a family with one husband and more than one wives". That's inaccurate; the social construction of male superiority should be held responsible for this fallacy. Polygamy is a gender neutral term. It means marriage to more than one spouse simultaneously (more on the epistome here). So, when a man has two or more wives, we call that polygyny. If a woman has two or more husbands that's polyandry. The movie Berbagi Suami is a story (three stories, actually) about polygyny (you with HBO, think about Big Love).

University of Michigan's Ted Bergstrom has an interesting paper on polyginy. Borrowing an approach used by evolutionary biologists, he concludes:
A society that allows polygamy and stable property rights will usually have positive bride prices and some polygynous marriages. In such a society, bride prices will go not to the bride, but to her male relatives and all women be allocated the same amount of resources by their husbands. The greater the amount of material resources available per woman in the society, the higher will be bride prices and the greater the amount of resources allocated to each woman. However, in societies with sufficiently low amounts of resources per woman, instead of positive bride prices there will be dowries, which unlike bridewealth, are paid directly to the newly married couple. In such a society dowries will be of approximately the same size as the inheritance of males who marry.
In plain words, Bergstrom is saying that polygyny is likely to increase the "value" of women. Isn't that a good thing, ladies?

Here's more on the debate with econ points of view: Gary Becker (women better off in polyginous society), Tyler Cowen (polygamy makes children worse off), Alex Tabarrok (polygyny good for working women), David Friedman (polygyny good for women, polyandry good for men), Tim Harford (it's just a math), and Robert Frank (the victims of polygyny are men, not women).

So, now. Where do I stand on this polygamy thing? I don't disagree with it. Hm, will I do it? No. Why? Because I don't believe I can be equally fair and just to the wives. I, for one, don't like to be ill-treated. And it's always two-way direction.


  1. as this is a very risky subject and could directly impact my life, i'd try not to say too much on the subject. Personally, i think one is just the magic number. anymore or any less and you'll be venturing the strange places. I don't think you really need the economics to prove that.

    Just to offer more reference, here's (PDF) an interesting respond to Becker's. Easier to digest for non-economist since it don't use numbers and formulas.

  2. Thanks for the ref, Treespotter. It's a great reading. Love the journal's name, too: The Journal of Markets & Morality. That's hot.

  3. couldn't agree more with Treespotter, ONE is indeed the magic number... will read the journal too, seems interesting... the kind of thing to do on my future phd thesis :D

    however, playing with the idea: one man, one woman and marriage usually ended up with corner solution. one indifferent curve with many "budget" constraints... i was once thinking that my husband should get another woman to take care of him and our kids while i go pursuing my dreams... but then again, for that we have maids and nannies, no?

    aco, will read the positive value for woman in polyginy... i know several people who love using that as their references :D

  4. Guys, listen to this! dHani was willing to share his husband! You don't hear that often!

    I just realized, I have cited no female economist! Oh my God, I'm a sexist!

  5. i can refer you to Ms Ledlund, she writes on the economic of prostitution, slightly more intriguing than the previous topic. i guess. kinda of. heck...

    note: bout the journal, that's actually what brought me there. how do they do that and still sound sensible, really?

  6. thanks treespotter.. am interested in any economics analysis on non-economical stuff... throw out the fiscal budget, monetary expansion, exchange rate whatever... give me gender, everyday choice, freakonomics-stuffs... heck, good topic for "econobabe"!!!

  7. Haven't read the articles you mentioned, but I am just wondering could we set the number of woman you want to marry through the pareto analysis? :)

    If the monogamy situation is already in pareto efficient for some couples, there is no such reason for both to have additional wives or husbands. By doing so, the partnet would be worse off, and ends in divorce or bad marriage (if you already have children, many couples assume that divorce should be avoid) :D

    Otherwise, it is better off for at least one of the couple to have another wife or husband. And live happily ever after with two/more wives/husbands.:)

    If this analysis could be applied in choice between monogamy and poligamy ,may be I just want to ask , especially who has already married : "Are you guys have already in pareto efficent situation ?":D

    Just an opinion :)


  8. how about all of u giving me your opinion of all or any of the examples in the movie? Did any approach optimum?

  9. Emm... does anyone here think that one wife is already TOO MANY...?? Don't know the case about husband, though... :-)

  10. Polygyny happens in societies men can get away with it, it's a hold-up problem pure and simple, wives have /no/ options but to go along with it.

    I imagine societies where polygany is common, are also extremely prone to domestic abuse. E.g. a husband can get away with abusing his wives, knowing they have no other options - again a hold up problem.

    Why is it that I only see "intellectual" men pontificating about this subject and ot disagreeing with it (bleuuch) (apart from Dhani).