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Unnatural Selection, Part II: A Review

abortion, Asia, crime, economics, family, marriage, men, monogamy, polygamy, pro-life, world population No comments
By MARRI Interns
Mara Hvistendahl’s latest book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, is a riveting book full of anecdotes that are simultaneously heartbreaking and revelatory of our global opinions toward the value of life, marriage, and women. From the anti-romance of the East China Sea economy of wife trafficking, wherein Asian airports are the inauspicious meeting places of future loving couples, to the yuppie dream of Southern California fertility clinics, wherein a woman can be artificially impregnated during her lunch hour, to the unnervingly nonchalant disposal of aborted fetuses in India, the anecdotes shared in Unnatural Selection reveal a global confusion about the value of baby girls.

Yet, this tome is not the product of an opponent of abortion. Hvistendahl herself admits in the preface that she endorses abortion even though “the finer points of the abortion debate elude me.” She then resorts to this redoubt of agnosticism in order to withhold her judgment on a practice whose ramifications she lambasts on every page: “Since I refuse to venture a guess at when life begins, this is not a book about death and killing… but about the potential for life—and denying that potential to the very group responsible for perpetuating our beleaguered species.”

With this preface, thus begins Hvistendahl’s 300-page endeavor to elucidate the defining demographic dynamic of our day—the global paucity of women and its attendant social disturbances. She primarily investigates the effects of this demographic inequality in Asia, where the social sciences display unanimously pernicious effects of the lack of women, including a rise in violent crime. Studies across China show “a clear link between a large share of males and unlawfulness, concluding a mere 1 percent increase in sex ratio at birth resulted in a five to six point increase in an area’s crime rate.” Nor are these trends confined only to China: “The best way to predict whether a certain part of India has a high murder rate, indeed, is to look at its sex ratio.” Bachelors report generally lower standards of living than married men, culminating in poorer physical and mental health, and a shorter lifespan. 

By increasing the rate of crime, the sex selection bias against women thus creates a social dynamic similar to that of a society in which the number of available women is depleted by polygamy. In “The Puzzle of Monogamous Marriage,” a recent articlepublished in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, Joseph Henrich and colleagues use an elementary economic model to explain the rise of monogamous marriage as a social dynamic designed to foment a number of beneficial social dynamics, including “reduc[ing] the size of the pool of unmarried men.” In economic terms, both polygamy (when more than one woman enters a marriage relationship with one man) and sex selection against females creates a deficit of women in the pool of available marriage partners. Elementary economic theory dictates that the “price” of wives will then increase concomitantly with the increase in competition for them. This competition will squeeze lower-class males out of the marriage market since they have neither the financial resources nor the social standing to attract women. Consequently, the less affluent and socially inferior men are left without brides. This is doubly pernicious since it is exactly that class of men that is most likely to commit crimes, and “across all crimes, marriage reduces a man’s likelihood of committing a crime by 35%.”

Furthermore, Henrich et al. postulate that this paucity of women will be equally deleterious toward the women themselves: “the reduced supply of unmarried women, who are absorbed into polygamous marriages, causes men of all ages to pursue younger and younger women.”

Nicholas Eberstadt of The New Atlantis elaborateseven further upon the negative social effects of a sex selection-induced decline of women and applies them globally to say that “sex-selective abortion is by now so widespread and so frequent that it has come to distort the population composition of the entire human species.” Thus the pernicious trends identified in Hvistendahl’s book as sweeping the Asian subcontinent presents serious hazards for the future of the entirety of mankind. If the international demographic data is to be believed at all, one must confess that all is not well with the global practice of abortion.

Dr. Henry Potrykus, Senior Fellow at the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, has also done work on demographics and the future of the West illustrating not only the effects of abortion or sex-selective abortion, but the decline in women’s fertility in general. He finds that “[t]he peoples of the West are self-depleting because of the adoption of extra-marital sexual norms coupled with a rejection of fertility: Negative trends in the openness to marriage and the openness to children drive an exponential decrease in the generations to come in Europe.”

To address this decline in fertility, Potrykus suggests that society must re-adopt stable marriage between a man and a woman as a societal norm. Governments and cultures must reject the non-sustainable model of society that is devoid of religion but open to polymorphous sexuality and serial polygamy. Placing religion and family at the center of a culture is the only way to make it thrive.

What’s So Wrong with Polygamy?: Part 2

Christianity, family, marriage, monogamy, news, Pat Fagan, polygamy, religion, social institutions No comments

By Pat Fagan

A response to the conclusion in Libby Copeland’s piece for Slate on the effects of polygamy and monogamous marriage: “Is Polygamy Really So Awful?”:

Ms. Copeland concludes that “Christianity may have brought monogamy to Europe and many other places, but those cultures succeeded because monogamy happened to suit them. In other words, as far as social evolution is concerned, the best form of marriage for a given society isn’t really about what’s moral, but what works.”

Libby Copeland’s concluding statement (that monogamy is best for society because it works, not because it is moral) gets the causation backwards: Monogamy works because it is moral. Christ gave his disciples tough standards in marriage– so tough his disciples’ initial reaction was “In that case, it is better for man not to marry.” Nevertheless, Christ prevailed and his disciples embraced this moral doctrine — and gave it as a gift to Western Civilization, not because it works (though it does), but because Christ so instructed (and still does, though Christians today on marriage — as in many times in the past on different aspects of Christ’s teachings — are very lax in obeying and following him).

There is a unity in Christian teaching, and its fruits come out repeatedly, in myriad ways: the good of women, of children, of the poor, and of the sick are just a few (and all its fruits are good for society– though, again, this is not why they are done). Monogamous marriage is just another in a long list of gifts to the West, and to mankind at large. We took it so much for granted we never realized it, until it started to fade. But ultimately it is not marriage that is failing, but Christians. Marriage of its nature does not fail — people flourish in marriage, when they live it. It works, but it takes moral effort. Christians would say it takes more at times: lots of grace and effort.

What’s So Wrong with Polygamy?

child well-being, children, crime, culture, family, fathers, human capital, marriage, monogamy, news, polygamy, social institutions, women No comments

By Anna Dorminey, Staff

Libby Copeland writes for Slate on the effects of polygamy and monogamous marriage on crime in “Is Polygamy Really So Awful?” While we disagree with Ms. Copeland’s conclusion (that the best form of union for a society is best not because it is moral, but because it “works”), the research she references in her piece is extremely interesting. Read along:

History suggests that [plural marriage] is [harmful]. A new study out of the University of British Columbia documents how societies have systematically evolved away from polygamy because of the social problems it causes. The Canadian researchers are really talking about polygyny, which is the term for one man with multiple wives, and which is by far the most common expression of polygamy. Women are usually thought of as the primary victims of polygynous marriages, but as cultural anthropologist Joe Henrich documents, the institution also causes problems for the young, low-status males denied wives by older, wealthy men who have hoarded all the women. And those young men create problems for everybody.

“Monogamous marriage reduces crime,” Henrich and colleagues write, pulling together studies showing that polygynous societies create large numbers of unmarried men, whose presence is correlated with increased rates of rape, theft, murder, and substance abuse. According to Henrich, the problem with unmarried men appears to come primarily from their lack of investment in family life and in children. Young men without futures tend to engage in riskier behaviors because they have less to lose. And, too, they may engage in certain crimes to get wives—stealing to amass enough wealth to attract women, or kidnapping other men’s wives.

Ms. Copeland also addresses the effects polygamy produces for individual men, women, and children. These effects are consistently negative:

That polygyny is bad for women is not necessarily intuitive. As economist Robert H. Frank has pointed outwomen in polygynist marriages should have more power because they’re in greater demand, and men should wind up changing more diapers. But historically, polygamy has proved to be yet another setup that [harms] the XX set. Because there are never enough of them to go around, they wind up being married off younger. Brothers and fathers, realizing how valuable their female relations are, tend to control them more. And, as one would expect, polygynous households foster jealousy and conflict among co-wives. Ethnographic surveys of 69 polygamous cultures “reveals no case where co-wife relations could be described as harmonious,” Henrich writes, with what must be a good dose of understatement.

Children, too, appear to suffer in polygamous cultures. Henrich examines a study comparing 19th-century Mormon households, 45 of them headed by wealthy men, generally with multiple wives, and 45 headed by poorer men, generally with one wife each. What’s surprising is that the children of the poorer men actually fared better, proving more likely to survive to age 15. Granted, this is a small study, but it’s consistent with other studies, including one from Africa showing that the children of monogamous households tend to do better than those from polygynous households in the same communities. Why? Some scholars suspect that polygyny may discourage paternal investment. Men with lots of children and wives are spread too thin, and to make things worse, they’re compiling resources to attract their next wives instead of using it on their existing families.

For more on the benefits of intact, monogamous marriage for society and individuals, visit www.marri.us.