In which countries is polyamory most common?

polygamy "Polygamy" tends to be the exception worldwide

Polygamy common in West and Central Africa

So polygamous households are most common today in the countries of the polygyny belt south of the Sahara. According to the analysis, eleven percent of the population there live in relationships with several spouses. They are most widespread in Burkina Faso with 36 percent, in Mali with 34 percent and Nigeria with 28 percent.

In Africa, Muslims (25 percent) live more often than Christians (three percent) in polygamous households. The only exception is Chad: Here there are predominantly Christians (21 percent) than Muslims (10 percent). But also the followers of regional folk religions or people who do not identify with a religion at all practice polygamy here. In Burkina Faso, for example, 45 percent of people who practice popular religions, 40 percent of Muslims and 24 percent of Christians live in polygamous households.

Religion influences the practice of polygamy

But what are the reasons for polygamy when the monogamous relationship has obviously prevailed in almost all parts of the world?

First there are the religious reasons. For example, in many countries that allow polygamy there is a Muslim majority society. However, mostly only a tiny fraction of the men live here with several wives. In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Egypt, for example, polygamy is legal, but only one percent of Muslim men practice it. In principle, the permissibility of polygamy is often traced back to the Koran verse 4: 3, which basically allows men several women if they can take care of all of them. Historians, however, see the origin more in the seventh century: During the wars in the Arab region, many widows and orphans were probably welcomed in this way. And to this day, the polygamous Muslims can be found particularly where young men in particular do not have a high life expectancy.

3 And if you fear that you are not doing justice to the orphans, marry what you think is good in women, two, three or four. But if you fear not acting righteously, then (only) one or what your right hand has. It is more likely that you are not unjust.

But not only the Koran, but also the Jewish Torah and the Christian Old Testament refer to several cases of accepted plural marriages - among others in the case of Abraham, Jacob and David. Today polygamy is still practiced mainly by certain Christian sects - for example, Mormon splinter groups.

However, the analysis also shows that if polygamy is widespread in a region, it is usually practiced by people of all faiths. That is the case in Gambia, Niger, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso, where at least one in ten people of every religious group lives in households in which people have more than one spouse.

A man with several women is the norm

It can be seen all over the world that polygamy usually also means polygyny: that is, a man with several women.

It is very rare for a woman to have several husbands - that is, polyandry. Today they actually only exist in small and relatively isolated communities, writes Kramer. Historically, however, a woman's marriage to several men may have been more common, anthropologists believe.

In various social structures it made sense if, for example, brothers had a wife together. For example, arable land could have remained bundled in the family or, in the absence of the first husband, the safety of the wife and children was guaranteed. Apparently, in polyandric relationships, the men were often brothers. Even if a woman with several men does not sound like it: These multiple marriages were and are patriarchal too. Usually the first husband decides and never the wife.

However, the Pew Research Center also points out that there are also countries in which women's rights also play a role in polygamy. In Burkina Faso, for example, wives have to agree to a polygamous marriage from the start so that the man can later marry other women. In Djibouti, a judge records existing wives' opinions on new marriages and then examines the husband's socio-economic situation before approving a marriage contract with another wife.

Religious survey as a basis for analysis

The Pew Research Center collected the data on polygamous households in a worldwide study. They are part of a report on the composition of households by religion around the world. To this end, the living conditions of 20 million households in 130 countries and regions around the world were recorded.