A Primatologist Looks at the FLDS
A real one this time!! (It’s not just me pretending to be a primatologist, as in my primatologist looks at the mathematical community post.)
I was reading along in the book Parenting for Primates (which I discussed here and here), and I found that the author (Harriet J. Smith) devoted four full pages to the reproductive strategies of the FLDS! It’s not surprising that they’d be of interest to primatologists — polygyny may be rare for humans in industrialized nations, but it’s not that unusual for primates in general.
The main point that the author makes about them is that — while polygyny can thrive in agrarian societies where children work to contribute to the household economy — it doesn’t work nearly so well in an industrialized societies where parents are the sole economic support for their children well into adulthood. Smith explains:
Polygyny is not a good fit with the characteristics of a modern industrial society, so fundamentalist Mormons pay a high price for their lifestyle: they forfeit economic prosperity. Living in an economically deprived, barren, desert environment, they have few opportunities for career advancement or the accumulation of wealth. Because large families eat up rather than add to a family’s resources in industrial societies, Mormon polygynists typically aren’t wealthy, and many families live in poverty. More than one third of the polygynous Hilldale-Colorado City families depend on food stamps, compared to less than 5 percent of other Utah families. Although there are a few very wealthy men (with many wives) in those communities, it is not unusual for poor husbands also to have more than one wife (which doe not occur when polygyny is an adaptation to the environment).
Also, in most of the primate species where polygyny is the norm, a male has a harem only when he’s in his prime, and eventually loses it to a younger, stronger male once he’s too old to defend his position. In a species like humans where parents form lifelong bonds, polygyny obviously creates a huge gender imbalance when practiced as the norm (as opposed to a typical human society where polygyny is practiced only by a small percentage of males — the very wealthiest).
So the author concludes that this type of community is unlikely to ever become the norm.