Polygyny is a form of marriage in which a man has two or more wives at the same time. In countries where the practice is illegal, the man is referred to as a bigamist or a polygamist. It is distinguished from relationships where a man has a sexual partner outside marriage, such as a concubine, casual sexual partner, paramour, cohabits with a married woman or other culturally but not legally recognized secondary partner. Polygyny is the most common form of polygamy
Polygamy is a marriage which includes more than two partners...

; the much rarer practice of polyandry
Polyandry refers to a form of marriage in which a woman has two or more husbands at the same time. The form of polyandry in which a woman is married to two or more brothers is known as "fraternal polyandry", and it is believed by many anthropologists to be the most frequently encountered...

 is the form of marriage in which one woman has two or more husbands at the same time.


Polygyny has been practiced in some cultures throughout history. It was partially accepted in ancient Hebrew
Hebrews is an ethnonym used in the Hebrew Bible...

 society, in classical China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, and in sporadic traditional Native American, Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

n and Polynesia
Polynesia is a subregion of Oceania, made up of over 1,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean. The indigenous people who inhabit the islands of Polynesia are termed Polynesians and they share many similar traits including language, culture and beliefs...

n cultures. In India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 it was known to have been practiced during ancient times. It was accepted in ancient Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, until the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 and the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 when having one wife, but multiple lovers became the norm. It was accepted in Sub-Saharan Africa for most of the past two millennia.

In the Hebrew Bible, polygyny was a permitted practice (and required in the case of a levirate marriage
Levirate marriage
Levirate marriage is a type of marriage in which the brother of a deceased man is obligated to marry his brother's widow, and the widow is obligated to marry her deceased husband's brother....

) whilst polyandry (a woman having more than one husband) was seen as adultery.

In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, polygyny or "plural marriage
Plural marriage
Polygamy was taught by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for more than half of the 19th century, and practiced publicly from 1852 to 1890.The Church's practice of polygamy has been highly controversial, both within...

" was allowed in the early history
History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is typically divided into three broad time periods: the early history during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, Jr...

 of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). It ended in 1890 under the president of the LDS Church at the time, Wilford Woodruff
Wilford Woodruff
Wilford Woodruff, Sr. was the fourth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1889 until his death...

. Officially since 1899, members of the LDS Church faced excommunication for being polygynous. There are several sects who separated themselves from LDS Church, and who have no ties nor relationship to the LDS Church that continue to practice polygyny despite polygynous marriage
Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found...

 being illegal in the United States.

In historical China a child was considered to have more than one mother. For example, a child might have up to four mothers, the first wife being the "official mother" (嫡母 dímǔ) – in spoken language called "big mother" (大媽 dàmā) – the others being regarded as unofficial mothers (庶母 shùmǔ), in spoken language called "little mother" (小媽 xiǎomā) or "aunt" (阿姨 āyí, 姨娘 yíniáng). However, this custom was primarily a result of the concubinage system, where only the first wife by marriage was considered the wife and the mistress of the household. A concubine did not marry her owner. Her main duty was to provide a son to her owner, and any children from the liaison were not regarded as officially hers. But she was also brought into the household to provide sexual pleasure to the man and servitude to his wife.

In polygynous marriages generally, usually one wife is the “queen wife” who is accorded a higher status than the other wives and has some authority over the other wives.


There is also some research that show that males living in polygynous marriages live longer; 12 percent longer on average.

Women have been more likely than men to be left unmarried or widowed. One current viable reason is that throughout human history males have always had a higher mortality rate. Polygyny ensured that such women were cared for and also helped ensure the births of the large numbers of children required for the survival of pre-mechanized, largely agrarian cultures in which early mortality rates were high.

The required inheritance of widows requires men in some societies to marry the widow of a deceased brother. This levirate marriage
Levirate marriage
Levirate marriage is a type of marriage in which the brother of a deceased man is obligated to marry his brother's widow, and the widow is obligated to marry her deceased husband's brother....

 helps provide support for her and increases his number of wives.

In some societies only well-to-do men could afford to have more than one wife, particularly if each wife required maintenance of a separate household. The current traditional form of Islam permits as many as four wives, but depending on the man's financial circumstances, fewer wives are more common; indeed, the vast majority of Muslim men are monogamous.

While few present-day states permit polygamous marriages, polygynous male behavior may be observed in the establishment of mistresses
Mistress (lover)
A mistress is a long-term female lover and companion who is not married to her partner; the term is used especially when her partner is married. The relationship generally is stable and at least semi-permanent; however, the couple does not live together openly. Also the relationship is usually,...

, who are openly or secretly supported. In this way, men may be technically monogamous but de facto polygynous.

Economically, polygyny tends to benefit all but the most desirable women, by giving them more opportunities to marry rich men, who are in short supply. Most men tend to be disadvantaged by polygyny, however, since when many women are able to marry a rich man, it leaves fewer women available for the less rich.


Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

 indicates that polygyny was practised in ancient Israelite
According to the Bible the Israelites were a Hebrew-speaking people of the Ancient Near East who inhabited the Land of Canaan during the monarchic period .The word "Israelite" derives from the Biblical Hebrew ישראל...

 societies. Though the institution was not extremely common, it was not particularly unusual and was certainly not prohibited but discouraged by the Bible (namely the Mosaic Law recommended that kings should not have many wives, and when Solomon took 1000 wives the Bible cites his polygamy as the reason of the fall of his faith). The Bible mentions approximately forty polygynists, including Abraham
Abraham , whose birth name was Abram, is the eponym of the Abrahamic religions, among which are Judaism, Christianity and Islam...

, Jacob
Jacob "heel" or "leg-puller"), also later known as Israel , as described in the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, the New Testament and the Qur'an was the third patriarch of the Hebrew people with whom God made a covenant, and ancestor of the tribes of Israel, which were named after his descendants.In the...

, Esau
Esau , in the Hebrew Bible, is the oldest son of Isaac. He is mentioned in the Book of Genesis, and by the minor prophets, Obadiah and Malachi. The New Testament later references him in the Book of Romans and the Book of Hebrews....

, David
David was the second king of the united Kingdom of Israel according to the Hebrew Bible and, according to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, an ancestor of Jesus Christ through both Saint Joseph and Mary...

 and King Solomon, with little or no further remark on the institution.

The Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

, the Five Books of Moses, includes specific regulations on the practice of polygyny. states that multiple marriages are not to diminish the status of the first wife, while states that a man must award the inheritance due to a first-born son to the son who was actually born first, even if he hates that son's mother and likes another wife more (implying that he had divorced the first-born son's mother); and states that the king shall not have too many wives.

The biblical institution of a levirate marriage
Levirate marriage
Levirate marriage is a type of marriage in which the brother of a deceased man is obligated to marry his brother's widow, and the widow is obligated to marry her deceased husband's brother....

 was a form of polygyny. required a man to marry and support his deceased brother's widow
A widow is a woman whose spouse has died, while a widower is a man whose spouse has died. The state of having lost one's spouse to death is termed widowhood or occasionally viduity. The adjective form is widowed...

, if he died without her having given birth to a son. The practice has been justified in that it was important for the deceased brother to have an heir to inherit his lands, and to say the prayers for the dead for him. The practice was also a means to ensure that the widow was provided for. If the eldest brother refused to marry the widow then it was the responsibility of the next brother and so on down the family line.


Since the 11th century, Ashkenazi Jews have followed Rabbenu Gershom's ban on polygyny (except in rare circumstances).

Some Mizrahi Jewish communities (particularly Yemenite Jews
Yemenite Jews
Yemenite Jews are those Jews who live, or whose recent ancestors lived, in Yemen . Between June 1949 and September 1950, the overwhelming majority of Yemen's Jewish population was transported to Israel in Operation Magic Carpet...

 and Persian Jews
Persian Jews
Persian Jews , are Jews historically associated with Iran, traditionally known as Persia in Western sources.Judaism is one of the oldest religions practiced in Iran. The Book of Esther contains some references to the experiences of Jews in Persia...

) discontinued polygyny much more recently, as they immigrated to countries where it was forbidden or illegal. Such is the case in the State of Israel, which has made polygamy illegal. In practice, however, the law is only loosely enforced, primarily so as not to interfere with Bedouin
The Bedouin are a part of a predominantly desert-dwelling Arab ethnic group traditionally divided into tribes or clans, known in Arabic as ..-Etymology:...

 culture, where polygyny is practiced. Pre-existing polygynous unions among Jews from Arab countries
Arab Jews
Arab Jews is a term referring to Jews living in the Arab World, or Jews descended from such persons.The term was occasionally used in the early 20th century, mainly by Arab nationalists, to describe the 1 million Jews living in the Arab world at the time...

 (or other countries where the practice was not prohibited by their tradition and was not illegal in the local law) are also not subject to this Israeli law, although a similar cultural concession to the Bedouin is not extended to Mizrahi Jews, and they are not permitted to enter into new polygamous marriages in Israel.

Among Karaite Jews, who do not adhere to Rabbinic interpretations of the Torah, polygyny is non-existent today. Karaites interpret to mean that a man can only take a second wife if his first wife gives her consent and Karaites interpret to mean that a man can only take a second wife if he is capable of maintaining the same level of marital duties due to his first wife: namely, food, clothing, and sexual gratification.

Because of these two biblical limitations and because nearly all western countries outlaw it, polygyny is considered impractical, and there are no known cases of it among Karaite Jews.


Polygyny was not practiced by Christians during the New Testament era. Plural marriage is currently rejected by most sects of Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...


The current predominant belief among Christians in the United States is that polygyny is wrong and claim there is New Testament Biblical evidence to support that stance, citing for example (KJV):
Some suggest the New Testament Church did ban polygyny for bishops (1 Timothy
First Epistle to Timothy
The First Epistle of Paul to Timothy, usually referred to simply as First Timothy and often written 1 Timothy, is one of three letters in the New Testament of the Bible often grouped together as the Pastoral Epistles, the others being Second Timothy and Titus...

 3:2). However, the word for "one" is correctly translated as "first" and as an indefinite article as well, which opens other possible interpretations. The First Epistle to the Corinthians
First Epistle to the Corinthians
The first epistle of Paul the apostle to the Corinthians, often referred to as First Corinthians , is the seventh book of the New Testament of the Bible...

 of Paul the Apostle concisely addresses each of the two gender forms of polygamy
Polygamy is a marriage which includes more than two partners...

 (in the sequence first polyandry
Polyandry refers to a form of marriage in which a woman has two or more husbands at the same time. The form of polyandry in which a woman is married to two or more brothers is known as "fraternal polyandry", and it is believed by many anthropologists to be the most frequently encountered...

 and next polygyny) as follows: "But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband." (1 Corinthians 7:2, NRSV) Additional contrasts between 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians on other specific topics are compiled within broader-scale discussions on authorship of the Pauline epistles
Authorship of the Pauline epistles
The Pauline epistles are the fourteen books in the New Testament traditionally attributed to Paul the Apostle, although many dispute the anonymous Epistle to the Hebrews as being a Pauline epistle....


Interviewed by Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

magazine about his book, Michael Coogan
Michael Coogan
Michael D. Coogan is a Professor of Religious Studies at Stonehill College, a private Roman Catholic institution located in Easton, Massachusetts. He is also Director of Publications for the Harvard Semitic Museum. Coogan has taught at Stonehill College since 1985...

 said that according to Sola Scriptura
Sola scriptura
Sola scriptura is the doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. Consequently, sola scriptura demands that only those doctrines are to be admitted or confessed that are found directly within or indirectly by using valid logical deduction or valid...

, the Mormon
The term Mormon most commonly denotes an adherent, practitioner, follower, or constituent of Mormonism, which is the largest branch of the Latter Day Saint movement in restorationist Christianity...

s were right about polygamy
Polygamy is a marriage which includes more than two partners...

. He was chief editor for the Oxford Annotated Bible
Oxford Annotated Bible
The Oxford Annotated Bible is a study Bible published by the Oxford University Press . The notes and the study material feature in-depth academic research from non-denominational perspectives, with contributors from mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish traditions.The original OAB and...

, 4th Edition (as well as the prececessor 3rd Edition). As to why fundamentalist Mormons are "right in a sense" regarding polygyny, the reasoning he offers does include both "There is no unequivocal statement in the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible, that says that monogamy should be the norm", and also "If you're going to be a strict literalist, there's nothing wrong with polygamy." The Oxford Annotated Bible, 4th Edition in turn does, in comparison, annotate 1 Corinthians 7:2 as "...Paul counsels monogamy..."

East Asia

Having offspring is very important in Chinese culture. China has practiced polygyny for thousands of years. Polygyny had been legal and was written in the law as recently as the end of the Qing/Ching dynasty of the imperial China (1911).

A part of the Confucian tradition indicates the importance of procreation, as it is considered to be part of filial piety
Filial piety
In Confucian ideals, filial piety is one of the virtues to be held above all else: a respect for the parents and ancestors. The Confucian classic Xiao Jing or Classic of Xiào, thought to be written around 470 BCE, has historically been the authoritative source on the Confucian tenet of xiào /...

. Therefore, it is possible that this type of thinking influenced the view towards polygyny.

In the past, Emperors could have hundreds to thousands of concubines. And subsequently rich officials and merchants could also have a number of concubines besides wives. The first wife is head or mother wife, other wives are under her headship if the husband is away, and others are concubines and have lower status than the full wives. Offspring from concubines did receive equal wealth/legacy from their father.

The original wife (or legal wife) is referred to as the 正室 zhèngshì /정실 (main room) both in China, Japan and Korea. 大婆 dàpó (big woman/big wife) is the slang term. Both terms indicate the orthodox nature and hierarchy. The official wife is either called "big mother" (大媽 dàmā), mother or auntie. The child of the concubine simply addresses the big mother as auntie.

The written word for the second woman is 側室 cèshì /측실 and literally means "she who occupied the side room". This word is also used in both China and Japan. They are also called 妾 qiè/첩 in China and Korea.

The common terms referring to the second woman and the act of having the second woman respectively are 二奶 (èrnǎi / yi nai), literally "the second wife". The terms have been widely used in the media. Though illegal, it is still practiced by many richer men who can afford to support a mistress
Mistress (lover)
A mistress is a long-term female lover and companion who is not married to her partner; the term is used especially when her partner is married. The relationship generally is stable and at least semi-permanent; however, the couple does not live together openly. Also the relationship is usually,...

 and her subsequent children. The mass media often report polygyny cases of the rich and the famous.

People's Republic of China

In modern mainland China, polygamy (and by extension polygyny) is illegal under Marriage Law passed in 1951, except for those members of an ethnic minority who traditionally practice polygamy (both polygyny and polyandry). Polygyny was seen as a characteristic of the bourgeoisie
In sociology and political science, bourgeoisie describes a range of groups across history. In the Western world, between the late 18th century and the present day, the bourgeoisie is a social class "characterized by their ownership of capital and their related culture." A member of the...

 and as such, many senior Communist leaders who had mistresses and concubines during the Long March
Long March
The Long March was a massive military retreat undertaken by the Red Army of the Communist Party of China, the forerunner of the People's Liberation Army, to evade the pursuit of the Kuomintang army. There was not one Long March, but a series of marches, as various Communist armies in the south...

 were forced to disband them. Because of this, polygyny is virtually unheard of in China today.

However, with the opening up of the country and the increased contact with Hong Kong and Taiwan, certain polygamous activities began appearing. Cross-border polygyny is ever increasing between PRC, Hong Kong and ROC.


Polygyny is illegal in the 1930 ROC civil law. However, it is common for some richer Taiwanese to have secret second lovers who become concubines not living together with the wife. Taiwanese merchants, businessmen and workers are stationed in mainland China during work trips, and it is usual to keep secret lovers or even secret families there.

Hong Kong and Macau

Polygyny was banned in October 1971 but the practice is still evident. Chinese
Chinese people
The term Chinese people may refer to any of the following:*People with Han Chinese ethnicity ....

 men in Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

 could still practice polygamy by virtue of the Qing Code, which ended only with the passing of the Marriage Act of 1971. A famous example is Dr Stanley Ho
Stanley Ho
Stanley Ho, GBM, GLM, GBS, GML, OBE , also known as Ho Hung Sun, Stanley Ho Hung Sun, is an entrepreneur in Hong Kong and Macau. Ho is sometimes nicknamed "The King of Gambling", reflecting the government-granted monopoly he held of the Macau gambling industry for 40 years...

 who owns the Casino Lisboa
Casino Lisboa, Macau
The original casino and the 12-storey round hotel tower were built in 1970 by Stanley Ho, Teddy Yip, Yip Hon and Henry Fok. A 270-room extension was added in 1991 for a total of 927 rooms. In 2006, another extension, the Grand Lisboa, was built next to the current complex. Therefore a total of 2362...

 in Macau
Macau , also spelled Macao , is, along with Hong Kong, one of the two special administrative regions of the People's Republic of China...

. He has four wives. His uncle has 12 wives.

Kevin Murphy of the International Herald Tribune
International Herald Tribune
The International Herald Tribune is a widely read English language international newspaper. It combines the resources of its own correspondents with those of The New York Times and is printed at 38 sites throughout the world, for sale in more than 160 countries and territories...

 reported on the cross-border polygamy phenomenon in Hong Kong in 1995. The cost of maintaining a second family is lower in the PRC. Since work pressure in Hong Kong is extremely high and the birth rate is the lowest in the world, many local businessmen keep a secret concubine across the border in mainland China. Girls in mainland China are moreover more willing to be full-time mothers at a younger age.

In a research paper of Berlin Humboldt University on sexology, Doctor Man-Lun Ng estimated about 300,000 men to have mistresses in China. In 1995, 40% of extramarital affairs involved a stable partner

Period drama is performed to this day depicting the former culture of polygamy (usually polygyny). A famous example is the Wuxia
Wuxia is a broad genre of Chinese fiction concerning the adventures of martial artists. Although wuxia is traditionally a form of literature, its popularity has caused it to spread to diverse art forms like Chinese opera, manhua , films, television series, and video games...

novel The Deer and the Cauldron
The Deer and the Cauldron
The Deer and the Cauldron, also known as The Duke of Mount Deer, is a novel by Jin Yong, and was the last of Jin Yong's works. The novel was initially published as a serial, and ran between October 24, 1969 to September 23, 1972 in Ming Pao.Although the book is often termed as a wuxia novel, it is...

by Hong Kong writer Louis Cha, in which the protagonist Wei Xiaobao
Wei Xiaobao
Wei Xiaobao is the fictional protagonist of Jin Yong's wuxia novel The Deer and the Cauldron . He is a witty, sly and illiterate teenager, born to a prostitute from a brothel in Yangzhou during the Qing Dynasty. He bumbles his way into the Forbidden City and has a fateful encounter with the young...

 has seven wives. The novel and its film and TV series adaptations became immensely popular among Chinese-speaking communities around the world.


Although it is permitted in most Islamic countries under certain circumstances, polygamy is not widely practiced under Islam. In fact, it is claimed that Islam was the first religion to have limited the number of wives a man is permitted to four, and that Islam alone has expressly banned polyandry. Men who marry more than one woman may do so with the constraints that they are responsible for treating all their wives with kindness and dignity as well as for providing for their material needs equally.

Many majority Muslim
A Muslim, also spelled Moslem, is an adherent of Islam, a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the Quran, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God as revealed to prophet Muhammad. "Muslim" is the Arabic term for "submitter" .Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable...

 countries retain the traditional Sharia
Sharia law, is the moral code and religious law of Islam. Sharia is derived from two primary sources of Islamic law: the precepts set forth in the Quran, and the example set by the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the Sunnah. Fiqh jurisprudence interprets and extends the application of sharia to...

 which interprets teachings of the Quran to permit polygamy with up to four wives, as long as it is practiced under the specified conditions. Exceptions to this include Albania
Albania , officially known as the Republic of Albania , is a country in Southeastern Europe, in the Balkans region. It is bordered by Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, the Republic of Macedonia to the east and Greece to the south and southeast. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea...

, Tunisia
Tunisia , officially the Tunisian RepublicThe long name of Tunisia in other languages used in the country is: , is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a Maghreb country and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its area...

, Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

, and former USSR republics. Though about 70% of the population of Albania is historically Muslim
Cultural Muslim
Cultural Muslims are religiously unobservant, agnostic or atheist individuals who still identify with the Muslim culture due to family background, personal experiences, or the social and cultural environment in which they grew up....

, the majority is non-practicing. Turkey and Tunisia are countries with overwhelmingly Muslim populations that enforce secularist practices
French secularism, in French, laïcité is a concept denoting the absence of religious involvement in government affairs as well as absence of government involvement in religious affairs. French secularism has a long history but the current regime is based on the 1905 French law on the Separation of...

 by law. In the former USSR republics, a prohibition against polygamy has been inherited from Soviet Law. A current revival of polygamy in the Muslim World
Muslim world
The term Muslim world has several meanings. In a religious sense, it refers to those who adhere to the teachings of Islam, referred to as Muslims. In a cultural sense, it refers to Islamic civilization, inclusive of non-Muslims living in that civilization...

 has fueled attempts to re-legalize and re-legitimize it in some countries and communities where it is illegal.


Polygamy is illegal throughout the Russian Federation but is tolerated in predominantly Muslim republics such as Chechnya, Ingushetia
The Republic of Ingushetia is a federal subject of Russia , located in the North Caucasus region with its capital at Magas. In terms of area, the republic is the smallest of Russia's federal subjects except for the two federal cities, Moscow and Saint Petersburg...

, and Dagestan
The Republic of Dagestan is a federal subject of Russia, located in the North Caucasus region. Its capital and the largest city is Makhachkala, located at the center of Dagestan on the Caspian Sea...

. Ramzan Kadyrov
Ramzan Kadyrov
Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov is the President of Chechnya and a former Chechen rebel.Ramzan is a son of former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, assassinated in May 2004. In February 2007 Kadyrov replaced Alu Alkhanov as President, shortly after he had turned 30, which is the minimum age for the post...

, President of the Chechen Republic, has been quoted on radio as saying that the depopulation of Chechnya
The Chechen Republic , commonly referred to as Chechnya , also spelled Chechnia or Chechenia, sometimes referred to as Ichkeria , is a federal subject of Russia . It is located in the southeastern part of Europe in the Northern Caucasus mountains. The capital of the republic is the city of Grozny...

 by war justifies legalizing polygamy. Kadyrov has been supported by Nafigallah Ashirov, the Chairman of the Council of Grand Mufti
A mufti is a Sunni Islamic scholar who is an interpreter or expounder of Islamic law . In religious administrative terms, a mufti is roughly equivalent to a deacon to a Sunni population...

s of Russia, with the statement that polygamy is already widespread among Muslim communities of the country.

Although non-Muslim Russian populations are historically monogamous, Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky
Vladimir Zhirinovsky
Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky is a Russian politician, colonel of the Russian Army, founder and the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia , Vice-Chairman of the State Duma, and a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe....

 offered to legalize polygyny in order to tackle the demographic crisis of Russians. Zhirinovsky made his first proposal to legalize polygamy as early as 1993, after Kadyrov's declaration that he would introduce an amendment to legalize polygyny for all Russian citizens.


Although illegal, polygamy is a traditional practice that has been revived in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan , officially the Kyrgyz Republic is one of the world's six independent Turkic states . Located in Central Asia, landlocked and mountainous, Kyrgyzstan is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the southwest and China to the east...

. A proposal to decriminalize polygamy came before the Kyrgyz parliament and on March 26, 2007, despite strong backing of the Justice Minister, the country's ombudsman and the Muslim Women's organization Mutakalim that gathered 40,000 signatures in favour of polygamy, the parliament rejected the bill. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev
Kurmanbek Bakiyev
Kurmanbek Saliyevich Bakiyev is a politician who served as the second President of Kyrgyzstan, from 2005 to 2010...

 is known as a prominent opponent of legalizing polygyny.


Due to a recent increase in the number of polygamous marriages, proposals were made in Tajikistan
Tajikistan , officially the Republic of Tajikistan , is a mountainous landlocked country in Central Asia. Afghanistan borders it to the south, Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and China to the east....

 to re-legalize polygamy. Tajik women who want to be second wives are particularly supportive of decriminalizing polygyny. Mukhiddin Kabiri, the Deputy Chairman of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan
Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan
The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan is an Islamist political party in Tajikistan. It is the only legal Islamist party in Central Asia...

 states that legislation is unlikely to stop the growth in polygyny and criticizes the ruling élite for speaking out against the practice while taking more than one wife themselves.

Other former USSR republics

There have also been recent arguments in favour of re-legalizing polygamy in other ex-Soviet Muslim republics like Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan , officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a transcontinental country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Ranked as the ninth largest country in the world, it is also the world's largest landlocked country; its territory of is greater than Western Europe...

, Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan , officially the Republic of Azerbaijan is the largest country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east, Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west, and Iran to...

 and Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan , officially the Republic of Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia and one of the six independent Turkic states. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south....


Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Muslim communities of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina , sometimes called Bosnia-Herzegovina or simply Bosnia, is a country in Southern Europe, on the Balkan Peninsula. Bordered by Croatia to the north, west and south, Serbia to the east, and Montenegro to the southeast, Bosnia and Herzegovina is almost landlocked, except for the...

 have been traditionally known to practice polygamy at a very limited level. The custom last existed in Cazinska Krajina
Cazin is a town and municipality in northwest Bosnia and Herzegovina, near the border with Croatia. It is located in the Una-Sana Canton of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Cazinska Krajina is named after Cazin...

 in the early 1950s. Although illegal in the country, polygamy is encouraged by certain religious circles and there is a current increase in the number of practitioners. This trend appears linked with the advent of Wahhabism
Wahhabism is a religious movement or a branch of Islam. It was developed by an 18th century Muslim theologian from Najd, Saudi Arabia. Ibn Abdul Al-Wahhab advocated purging Islam of what he considered to be impurities and innovations...

 in the Balkans
The Balkans is a geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe...


The Bosniak
The Bosniaks or Bosniacs are a South Slavic ethnic group, living mainly in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a smaller minority also present in other lands of the Balkan Peninsula especially in Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia...

 population in neighbouring Sandžak
Sandžak also known as Raška is a historical region lying along the border between Serbia and Montenegro...

 has also been affected by this trend in Bosnia. There have been attempts to adopt an entire Islamic jurisdiction including polygamy but these moves have been rejected. However, this has not barred the top cleric, the Mufti of Novi Pazar
Novi Pazar
Novi Pazar is a city and municipality located in southwest Serbia, in the Raška District. According to the official census in 2011, number of inhabitants of municipality is 92,776, while the city itself has a population of 60,638...

, Muamer Zukorlić from taking a second wife.


In Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

, polygamy has been illegal since the adoption of the Turkish Civil Code in 1926, a milestone in Atatürk's secularist reforms.

Polygamy is a common occurrence in Kurdish villages. Overall, it is on the rise in Turkey. An opinion poll in 2004 showed that 63% of Turks favored polygamy. On April 6, 2007, the Municipal Assembly of Çıplaklı in Alanya
Alanya , formerly Alaiye, is a beach resort city and a component district of Antalya Province in the Mediterranean Region of Turkey, from the city of Antalya. On the southern coast of Turkey, the district has an area of 1,598.51 km2 and 248,286 inhabitants...

, composed of members of the ruling moderate Islamist AK Parti
Justice and Development Party (Turkey)
The Justice and Development Party , abbreviated JDP in English and AK PARTİ or AKP in Turkish, is a centre-right political party in Turkey. The party is the largest in Turkey, with 327 members of parliament...

 and conservative-liberal ANAP
Motherland Party (Turkey)
The Motherland Party, was a political party in Turkey. It was founded in 1983 by Turgut Özal. It was merged to Democratic Party in October 2009...

, unanimously adopted a resolution to support men who consider taking a second wife (kuma). The people of Çıplaklı are Yörük
The Yorouks, also Yuruks or Yörüks are immigrants, ultimately of Thracian descent,some of whom are still nomadic, primarily inhabiting the mountains of Anatolia and partly Balkan peninsula...

, a Turkic
Turkic peoples
The Turkic peoples are peoples residing in northern, central and western Asia, southern Siberia and northwestern China and parts of eastern Europe. They speak languages belonging to the Turkic language family. They share, to varying degrees, certain cultural traits and historical backgrounds...

 ethnicity who practice transhumance
Transhumance is the seasonal movement of people with their livestock between fixed summer and winter pastures. In montane regions it implies movement between higher pastures in summer and to lower valleys in winter. Herders have a permanent home, typically in valleys. Only the herds travel, with...

. "When we go to the summer pastures and leave our wives behind, we feel very lonely," explained Ali İhsan Topal, a member of the Assembly from the AK Parti.

Sororal polygyny

Sororal polygyny is a type of marriage
Types of marriages
The type, functions, and characteristics of marriage vary from culture to culture, and can change over time. In general there are two types: civil marriage and religious marriage, and typically marriages employ a combination of both The type, functions, and characteristics of marriage vary from...

 in which two or more sisters share a husband. In Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

, this type of polgyny is specifically prohibited.
Reference from Quran (Chapter 4, verse 23):


Polygyny is legal according to the Hindu
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

 scriptures. Many mythological and epical characters are well known for practising polygyny. Krishna
Krishna is a central figure of Hinduism and is traditionally attributed the authorship of the Bhagavad Gita. He is the supreme Being and considered in some monotheistic traditions as an Avatar of Vishnu...

, one of the incarnations of Vishnu
Vishnu is the Supreme god in the Vaishnavite tradition of Hinduism. Smarta followers of Adi Shankara, among others, venerate Vishnu as one of the five primary forms of God....

 had 16108 consorts at his kingdom of Dwarka
Dwarka also spelled Dvarka, Dwaraka, and Dvaraka, is a city and a municipality of Jamnagar district in the Gujarat state in India. Dwarka , also known as Dwarawati in Sanskrit literature is rated as one of the seven most ancient cities in the country...

. Pandu
In the Mahābhārata epic, King Pandu is the son of Ambalika and Rishi Ved Vyasa. He is more popularly known as the father of the Pandavas and ruled Hastinapur.-Birth:...

, the father of the Pandavas
In the Hindu epic Mahābhārata, the Pandava are the five acknowledged sons of Pandu , by his two wives Kunti and Madri. Their names are Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva. Although, Karna is told by Lord Krishna that according to the laws and ethics he is the first son of Kunti making...

 in Mahabharata
The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India and Nepal, the other being the Ramayana. The epic is part of itihasa....

 had two wives Kunti and Madri.

United States and Canada

Polygyny is illegal in the United States and Canada, with some exceptions existing in Canada's provinces of Saskatchewan
Saskatchewan is a prairie province in Canada, which has an area of . Saskatchewan is bordered on the west by Alberta, on the north by the Northwest Territories, on the east by Manitoba, and on the south by the U.S. states of Montana and North Dakota....

 and British Columbia
British Columbia
British Columbia is the westernmost of Canada's provinces and is known for its natural beauty, as reflected in its Latin motto, Splendor sine occasu . Its name was chosen by Queen Victoria in 1858...

Mormon fundamentalism is a belief in the validity of selected fundamental
Fundamentalism is strict adherence to specific theological doctrines usually understood as a reaction against Modernist theology. The term "fundamentalism" was originally coined by its supporters to describe a specific package of theological beliefs that developed into a movement within the...

 aspects of Mormonism
Mormonism is the religion practiced by Mormons, and is the predominant religious tradition of the Latter Day Saint movement. This movement was founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. beginning in the 1820s as a form of Christian primitivism. During the 1830s and 1840s, Mormonism gradually distinguished itself...

 as taught and practiced in the nineteenth century. The principle most often associated with fundamental latter-day saint teachings is plural marriage
Plural marriage
Polygamy was taught by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for more than half of the 19th century, and practiced publicly from 1852 to 1890.The Church's practice of polygamy has been highly controversial, both within...

, a form of polygyny first taught by Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement
Latter Day Saint movement
The Latter Day Saint movement is a group of independent churches tracing their origin to a Christian primitivist movement founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. in the late 1820s. Collectively, these churches have over 14 million members...


At times, sources have claimed there are as many as 60,000 Fundamentalist latter-day saints in the United States, with fewer than half of them living in polygamous households. However, others have suggested that there may be as few as 20,000 Mormon fundamentalists with only 8,000 to 15,000 practicing polygamy. The largest Mormon fundamentalist groups are the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is one of the largest Mormon fundamentalist denominations and one of the largest organizations in the United States whose members practice polygamy. The FLDS Church emerged in the early twentieth century when its founding members left...

 (FLDS Church) and the Apostolic United Brethren
Apostolic United Brethren
The Apostolic United Brethren is a polygamous Mormon fundamentalist church within the Latter Day Saint movement. The sect is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints...

 (AUB). The FLDS Church is estimated to have 10,000 members residing in the sister cities of Hildale
Hildale, Utah
Hildale is a city in Washington County, Utah, United States. The population was 2,726 at the 2010 census.Hildale is a twin city to the more well-known Colorado City, Arizona, both of which straddle the border between Utah and Arizona. Hildale is the headquarters of the Fundamentalist Church of...

, Utah and Colorado City
Colorado City, Arizona
Colorado City is a town in Mohave County, Arizona, United States, and is located in a region known as the Arizona Strip. According to 2006 Census Bureau estimates, the population of the town was 4,607...

, Arizona; Eldorado
Eldorado, Texas
Eldorado is a city in and the county seat of Schleicher County, Texas, United States. The population was 1,951 at the 2000 census, but dropped to 1,800 according to a July 2009 estimate.Eldorado is located on U.S...

, Texas; Westcliffe
Westcliffe, Colorado
-Nonprofit Cultural Groups:* * * * * -Media:* * * -External links:***...

, Colorado; Mancos
Mancos, Colorado
The town of Mancos is a Statutory Town located in Montezuma County, Colorado, United States. The population was 1,119 at the 2000 census.The town of Mancos is located in southwestern Colorado, near the Four Corners, at the base of Mesa Verde National Park, and holds the trademark for "Gateway to...

, Colorado; Creston
Creston, British Columbia
Creston is a town of 4,826 people in the Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia, Canada. The town is located just a few kilometers north of the Porthill, Idaho border crossing into the United States and about a three-hour drive north from Spokane, Washington. It is about a one-hour drive...

 and Bountiful
Bountiful, British Columbia
Bountiful is a settlement located in the Creston Valley of southeastern British Columbia, Canada, near Cranbrook and Creston. The closest community is Lister, British Columbia....

, British Columbia; and Pringle
Pringle, South Dakota
Pringle is a town in Custer County, South Dakota, United States. The population was 112 at the 2010 census.-Geography:Pringle is located at ....

, South Dakota.


Polygyny is more widespread in Africa than in any other continent. Generally in rural areas with growing populations, the higher the incidence of polygyny, the greater the delay of first marriage for young men, and this creates a surplus of marriageable girls. Widespread polygyny is thus a major source of tension between younger and older men, and also between older husbands and younger wives. The higher the average polygyny rate, the greater the element of gerontocracy. Quite apart from the actual rate of polygyny, the distribution of wives may be uneven, reflecting a source of competitiveness or inequality among married men. Where there is a more even spread of wives, this reflects a more egalitarian and conformist attitude. It follows that comparison between profiles of polygyny for various African societies provides an insight into their inner characteristics.

In nature

Several species such as the wood mouse
Wood mouse
The wood mouse is a common murid rodent from Europe and northwestern Africa. It is closely related to the yellow-necked mouse but differs in that it has no band of yellow fur around the neck, has slightly smaller ears, and is usually slightly smaller overall: around 90 mm in length...

 Apodemus sylvaticus possess a polygamous social order in which males mate with multiple females. Such circumstances result in competition between males during reproductive periods. This competition can extend beyond the superficial scrambling for females and exists at a microscopic level as competition between spermatozoa in the reproductive tract of the female organism.

A variety of methods for practicing polygamy can be observed in the animal kingdom. For example, female defense polygyny is seen in marine amphipods, where the male herds the females into a cluster. This allows them to be protected by the male, while the male has continuous access to the females. Resource defense polygyny is a strategy seen in African cichlid fish, where the male collects empty snail shells which the females use to lay eggs. A third type is scramble competition polygamy, where females are widely spaced or fertility is time-limited, as in orangutans.

Elephant seals are known from long-term behavioral studies to be highly polygynous.


In zoology
Zoology |zoölogy]]), is the branch of biology that relates to the animal kingdom, including the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct...

, the term Harem is used for the social organization of certain species, such as those in the Hominidae
The Hominidae or include them .), as the term is used here, form a taxonomic family, including four extant genera: chimpanzees , gorillas , humans , and orangutans ....

 and Equidae
Equidae is the taxonomic family of horses and related animals, including the extant horses, donkeys, and zebras, and many other species known only from fossils. All extant species are in the genus Equus...

Family (biology)
In biological classification, family is* a taxonomic rank. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, and species, with family fitting between order and genus. As for the other well-known ranks, there is the option of an immediately lower rank, indicated by the...

, in groups of females surrounding a single dominant male. Non-dominant males will organize themselves in bachelor groups.

Bachelor band

Among members of certain species, such as apes (Superfamily Hominoidea)
Apes are Old World anthropoid mammals, more specifically a clade of tailless catarrhine primates, belonging to the biological superfamily Hominoidea. The apes are native to Africa and South-east Asia, although in relatively recent times humans have spread all over the world...

, horse
The horse is one of two extant subspecies of Equus ferus, or the wild horse. It is a single-hooved mammal belonging to the taxonomic family Equidae. The horse has evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years from a small multi-toed creature into the large, single-toed animal of today...

s (more broadly, Family Equidae
Equidae is the taxonomic family of horses and related animals, including the extant horses, donkeys, and zebras, and many other species known only from fossils. All extant species are in the genus Equus...

), dog
The domestic dog is a domesticated form of the gray wolf, a member of the Canidae family of the order Carnivora. The term is used for both feral and pet varieties. The dog may have been the first animal to be domesticated, and has been the most widely kept working, hunting, and companion animal in...

s and whale
Whale is the common name for various marine mammals of the order Cetacea. The term whale sometimes refers to all cetaceans, but more often it excludes dolphins and porpoises, which belong to suborder Odontoceti . This suborder also includes the sperm whale, killer whale, pilot whale, and beluga...

s, young non-dominant males can spontaneously form "bachelor groups" or "bachelor bands."

See also

  • Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam
    Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam
    The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam is a declaration of the member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference adopted in Cairo in 1990, which provides an overview on the Islamic perspective on human rights, and affirms Islamic Shari'ah as its sole source...

  • Mating system
    Mating system
    A mating system is a way in which a group is structured in relation to sexual behaviour. The precise meaning depends upon the context. With respect to higher animals, it specifies which males mate with which females, under which circumstances; recognised animal mating systems include monogamy,...

  • Monogamy
    Monogamy /Gr. μονός+γάμος - one+marriage/ a form of marriage in which an individual has only one spouse at any one time. In current usage monogamy often refers to having one sexual partner irrespective of marriage or reproduction...

  • Mormonism and polygamy
  • Plaçage
    Plaçage was a recognized extralegal system in which white French and Spanish and later Creole men entered into the equivalent of common-law marriages with women of African, Indian and white Creole descent. The term comes from the French placer meaning "to place with"...

  • Polyamory
    Polyamory is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved....

  • Polyandry
    Polyandry refers to a form of marriage in which a woman has two or more husbands at the same time. The form of polyandry in which a woman is married to two or more brothers is known as "fraternal polyandry", and it is believed by many anthropologists to be the most frequently encountered...

  • Polygamy
    Polygamy is a marriage which includes more than two partners...

  • Polygamy in Christianity
  • Polygynandry
    Polygynandry occurs when two or more males have an exclusive relationship with two or more females. The numbers of males and females need not be equal, and in vertebrate species studied so far, the number of males is usually lower.-In Bonobos:...

  • Polygyny threshold model
    Polygyny threshold model
    The polygyny threshold model is an explanation of polygyny, the mating of one male of a species with multiple females. The model shows how females may gain a higher level of biological fitness by mating with a male who already has a mate...

Further reading

  • Low, Bobbi S. (1990). Marriage systems and pathogen stress in human societies . American Zoologist 30: 325‑339. Full text - (Paper reports positive correlation between pathogen stress & polygyny.)
  • Korotayev A., Bondarenko D.
    Dmitri Bondarenko
    Dmitri Bondarenko , born 1968 in Moscow, is a Russian anthropologist, historian, and africanist. He has conducted field research in a number of African countries and in Russia...

     Polygyny and Democracy: a Cross-Cultural Comparison // Cross-Cultural Research. The Journal of Comparative Social Science. 34/2 (May2000). P. 190–208 (Paper reports negative
    - Science and mathematics :* Negative number* Negative mass* Negative energy * Electrical polarity* Negative result * Negative lenses, uses to describe diverging optics, see lens - Photography :...

    In statistics, dependence refers to any statistical relationship between two random variables or two sets of data. Correlation refers to any of a broad class of statistical relationships involving dependence....

    between polygyny & democracy.)

External links

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