Comparison of marital systems existing in different cultures

It is well known that all cultures are unique and exquisite in terms of different languages, religions, kinds of literature, customs and traditions peculiar to this or that culture. However, culture is comprised not only of works of art or ancient traditions, which are not always practiced thoroughly, an integral part of every culture is people’s family life, which of course is very much determined by different marital systems. Every culture possesses certain social patterns for marriages, including the number of partners a person can have (one or more), at what age he/she can get married and where the newlyweds should reside. Since the creation of the world two marital systems have been known. They are monogamy and polygamy. Both terms have Greek roots, and thus, can be easily defined. The term “monogamy” (“mono” means one) is a type of marriage or relationship when one male is married to one female or has intimate relations with one woman. In contrast, polygamy (“poly” means many) is a kind of relationship or marriage where one man is married to several women or one woman is married to several men. Thus, polygamy can be of two types: polygyny, describing a marriage of one man and several women, and polyandry, which represents a marriage of one woman and several men. Very often people omit the term “polygyny”, and call this kind of relationship as simply polygamy as it is not so widely spread in the world.
Generally speaking, monogamy is the most wide spread type of marital systems supported by many people worldwide, however, other types of marriages also exist and have the right to continue their existence. The current paper was designed to speak about two different cultures supporting either monogamy or polygamy, and advantages or disadvantages of both marital systems.

Monogamy versus polygamy
Monogamy is the only legal and accepted by the majority of population in our society type of marriage. It presupposes based on love marriage between heterosexual human beings. This feature is peculiar to all followers of Christian religion inhabiting not only the USA and Canada, but also the majority of European countries. However, other marital systems also exist, and Muslim world will make a good example to prove it. A widely spread type of relationship between men and women in Muslim countries is polygamy in the form of polygyny.
Before speaking about the peculiarities of these two different cultures, it is necessary to emphasize, that marital system strongly correlate with the religion dominating in certain countries. Namely because of religious beliefs people think that monogamy is right and polygamy is wrong or vice versa. In Western countries people prefer monogamous type of marriage, because it is stated in the Bible that a man should be married to one woman to form a family. Marriage is strongly supported in Bible in order to guard people against sexual relationship with several partners as it is considered to be a sin in Christianity. In contrast the holy book of Muslim people Koran allows men to have up to four wives if he fulfills certain rules, which will be discussed below.
While speaking about different marital systems, it is also necessary to touch upon the reasons which make people live in families, but not by themselves. Of course, the first reason is need for reproduction, because in most cases people will not have children unless they are married. However, there are plenty of exceptions of this pattern nowadays, because single mothers and even fathers are not surprising any more. Also, people get married when they fall in love with each other and feel that they cannot survive without a person chosen as a future partner. Another, reason of people getting married is somebody’s desire, for example, pressure from the side of parents. People may want to get married just because they don’t want to live alone, and marriage in this case is a sort of guarantee. There are a lot of other reasons influencing people’s decision to get married or not, but in general, a marriage is socially determined phenomenon which exists in every country and society. This is what the author of the book “Marriage and the Family” Ray E. Barber says about the roots of American families: “It is noteworthy that although American cultural life was woven of many ethnic strands, all of those which at the end of the seventeenth century were most effective--English, Dutch, French, and German--were of races in which the solidarity of the family was strongly ingrained. To this home-making instinct, rooted in the inheritance of the settlers, was added the influence of environment. Under the conditions of a frontier existence the family tended to become greatly strengthened as a social, economic and even military unit.” (Barber, 1939).
As it has been mentioned above, American and Western European society legalized heterosexual monogamy, while other types of marriages are not accepted by the majority of population or are even censured, and, thus, are not supported by laws. In order to understand why monogamy is the most widely spread type of marriage in the world, it is necessary to take a closer look at this phenomenon. First of all, monogamy is a characteristic feature of developed countries, while people of some developing countries still tend to have polygamous marriages. However, the main problem with polygamy is financial ability of men to provide several women with necessary resources. This is one of the conditions existing in the Muslim world, where a man cannot have more than one wife if he is not rich enough to support her financially, despite, of the fact that religion allows to have several wives. In our society, people don’t prefer polygamous type of marriage not because of lack of money, but because it was established so historically and culturally. As the author of the book “Anatomy of Love: The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery and Divorce” Helen E. Fisher writes that people’s desire to fall in love with one particular person and marry him of her is not determined by human genes, but it is determined by cultural heritage of the society (Barash, Lipton, 2001). It’s impossible not to agree with this statement. However, monogamous marriage cannot prevent people from being involved in conjugal infidelity, which is really a problem in the modern world. People get married, and than they become unfaithful and find alternative partners. This situation is one of the good examples showing non-observance of basic moral values in Christianity. The situation is different with polygamy, or polygyny to be exact. Muslim men can marry several women, thus, they have a choice, to marry one or more than one. Sometimes, they choose to get married just once because they are so in love with their only wife that they don’t need anybody else. The situation is different with wealthy representatives of Muslim world, for whom possession of several wives is the sign of wealth and nobility. Thus, sometimes they get married several times just because they need to follow the traditions. Usually, Muslim men wish to have a second or third wife, if the first one didn’t give birth to a male, which is considered to be very unlucky according to Muslim traditions. Nowadays, a woman and a man can sign prenuptial agreement, according to which a man is forbidden to get married more than once.
Though, monogamy is the only accepted form of marriage in the USA, and as it has been noticed by one of the authors: “For as long as we have been a civilization, monogamy, heterosexuality, legitimacy, and the virtues of marital fidelity have been givens of nature” (Barber, 1939); still some exceptions do exist. A good example showing the existence of such exceptions would make The Mormons and Native Americans: “the assumption was that easy access to sex was at the bottom of all of the polygamous unions regardless of their origin. Two examples of the reasons for polygyny among Native Americans are presented” (Fisher, 1992).
Speaking about polyandry, it occurs even more rarely than polygyny, but can be found in some settlements in India (Junsar Bawar).
Having spoken about monogamy and polygamy it is necessary to take into consideration advantages and disadvantages of both marital systems. As for monogamy, it creates strong family relations between two people of different sex, who usually have one or more children. Thus, it encourages reproduction and discourages giving birth to children before marriage. Monogamy also prevents people from having extra love affairs; however, in the modern world it doesn’t really stop anyone. Thus, it is possible to say, that monogamy only officially prevents adultery, while in practice it is not always so. In contrast, polygyny, as the major type of polygamy, allows men to marry several women, which minimizes the chance of men being involved in adultery. However, it sometimes creates an unfavourable situation for women, because they may experience lack of love and care from the side of a husband, because usually Muslim men tend to have “favourite wives”.

1. Barash, David P; Lipton, Judith Eve. (2001).The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.
2. Barber, Ray E. (1939). Marriage and the Family. McGraw-Hill.
3. Campbell, Judith. (1999). Practicing Polygyny in Black America: Challenging Definition, Legal and Social Considerations for the African American Community. The Western Journal of Black Studies, (Vol. 23).
4. Fisher, Helen E. (1992). Anatomy of Love: The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery and Divorce. Norton.
5. Tucker, William. (1993) Monogamy and Its Discontents. National Review, (Vol. 45).

Our services