Buy a spouse

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  Bridewealth payment Inheritance system
Mating system No Yes Even Sons favored
Monogamy 62% 38% 42% 58%
Limited Polygyny 46% 53% 20% 80%
General polygyny 9% 91% 3% 97%
  Nonstratified Stratified
Society Polygynous Monogamous Polygynous Monogamous
Dowry Absent 624 99 263 45
Dowry present 1 2 5 27

I just bought John Alcock’s Animal Behavior for $5 at a used book store here in Montpelier (see my review of Triumph of Sociobiology by the same author). I was flipping through and found these tables in the chapter titled The Evolution of Human Behavior.

Alcock states that “bride-price,” the practice of the groom’s family paying that of the bride, occurs in societies where there is a shortage of women because wealthy men aquire many wives. In contrast, dowry tends to occur where there is a premium on high status males, in other words, societies where monogamy is enforced and even wealthy males are limited to one wife, who therefore gains all the accrued benefits. 66% of societies surveyed in the Ethnographic Atlas had some form of brideprice, while only 3% practiced dowry (the monogamous upper caste Hindu culture is the most famous of these). Also note that societies in with men can aspire to multiple wives tends to skew inheritance patterns-because sons are a far better investment in terms of returning grandchildren to the parents (at least among those with wealth to give!), while monogamous societies have more balanced reproductive outcomes and therefore patterns of giving to children of both genders.


  1. Interesting. Now the foundations of the dowry system are becoming more clear to me. I think you need to have a situation where the desirability of the various males as spouses is more variable than that of the females. Maybe a stratified society is one situation where that’s the case. Anyway, in such a situation the incentive of the females to compete for the desirable males is greater than the other way around.

  2. So which edition of Animal Behavior was this, anyway? The Amazon reviewers are panning the latest (seventh) edition because it’s been dumbed down -