Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Mystery of Monogamy

Three economics professors from Hebrew University published an interesting paper on the American Economic Review, examining why developed societies are monogamous while rich men throughout history have typically practiced polygyny.

Wealth inequality naturally produces multiple wives for rich men in a standard model of the marriage market. However, we demonstrate that higher female inequality in the marriage market reduces polygyny. Moreover, we show that female inequality increases in the process of development as women are valued more for the quality of their children than for the quantity. Consequently, male inequality generates inequality in the number of wives per man in traditional societies, but manifests itself as inequality in the quality of wives in developed societies.

As summarized by Mahalanobis, the main empirical prediction is that the composition of inequality, not just the level, is an important determinant of the degree of polygyny in society. Specifically, societies should be more polygynous in countries where variation in overall wealth inequality is determined more by differences in nonlaber income (capital and inherited wealth) versus income variation generated by differences in the levels and returns to human capital investments.

Worth a read.

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