Polygamy and the “Market for Marriage”


I was watching the t.v. series “Escaping Polygamy” the other day and the living conditions of the polygamist wives was disgusting—many of them live in studio or one-bedroom run-down apartments, some without heat. That was bad, but their schedules were WORSE—up at 5am, cooking, cleaning, sewing, and 3 hours of PROPHET worshiping a day. The whole experience of the show was like the poster-child for powerlessness, or  – a reminder of the terrible shit that happens when feminine energy runs in an unhealthy masculine environment.

Feminine energy is “go with the flow, nurturing and acceptance” and when you mix that with the dark side of the masculine that seeks power and domination over others, you get LDS polygamists (among other dynamics throughout history).

But as I watched the show, I realized that I was seeing a physical manifestation of a pattern I had seen before in a DIFFERENT context.

And it was that underlying pattern, or structure, that ENSURED the incentives were aligned to KEEP the polygamist women powerless.

Back when I taught Economics 101 to college freshmen, I would have them play a game in class called “The market for marriage”.

I would divide the class in half, with the first half playing “the women in the marriage market” and the second half playing “the men in the marriage market”. I told all 30 students that as long as they could find someone to marry, I would give them as a couple $1000 and they could split it however they wanted.

Initially, we would have a constraint that disallowed same sex marriages simply to show history (and in this first case, this constraint is not binding). The goal of the game is to make yourself as well off as you can and so not surprisingly every student chose to get married.

As long as there were equal numbers of women and men in the marriage market, the benefits – that $1000, was split between the men and women 50-50. “Women Players” walked away with $500 and “Men Players” walked away with $500 and everyone was happy.

But THEN, I would change the game. I would have one, just one “man” sit out of the game and help me record the $1000 splits couples decided on. With 15 women and only 14 men in the marriage market, the benefits to marriage change…drastically.

Now, one woman is going to be left unmarried and get nothing – no share of the $1000 marriage reward. But the marriage market is competitive, so it’s not just the one unmarried woman who is going to be left with less – ALL women are.

Because now women have to compete with each other by giving away more of that $1000 to entice the RELATIVELY scarce men to marry them. This means they are willing to give away more than half of the $1000 because if they don’t get married, they get $0.

So the men in the market get more, substantially more and the women get substantially less. In fact, just removing 10% of the men from the market results in ALL women benefiting only $1 from marriage. Men get $999 and women get $1. And of course, this goes both ways, I played the game just as often having fewer women than men and you see the same results just flipped – the women get $999 and the men get $1.

In both cases, the constraint of “no same sex marriages” is very binding (in other words, it impacts the results). If you soften this constraint or allow same-sex marriages the benefits shift back to 50-50 really fast—immediately. An exaggerated real life example of this is polygamy.

This is the pattern that runs the show for religions interested in domination. Allowing or promoting multiple wives, places men in a relatively scarce position. I note polygamy is an exaggerated example because with polygamy you introduce ADDITIONAL competition between women for the little benefits they do actually receive. (Basically, now you have two women, or three or four, competing over that $1 of benefits and the husband is still getting $999). With these simple dollar numbers it is easy to see that men benefit 100-fold from taking multiple wives; whereas all women end up not receiving any benefits from marriage.

Allowing one of the sexes to take multiple partners drastically reduces the power of the opposite sex. Essentially, the split of that original $1000 represents the negotiating power of each partner at the beginning of the marriage. That can and will change over time, but it will be difficult for it to change drastically once the expectation is set. (And if it did, divorce is usually an option).

Imagine the powerlessness of women who enter into marriages with a $1-$999 split. They have no negotiating power; they are at the mercy of their society, their religion, and their husband and whatever his personal characteristics and tastes may be. YIKES. Double yikes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love men—I really love men but entering into a marriage where you have a 50-50 voice vs. a 1-99 voice is a LOT different. In the latter, you are basically signing up to get bulldozed your whole life, never get your needs met and never have a partner that actually cares about your needs and what you want.

Yes, there may be exceptions—there always are, but the vast majority of polygamous marriages will not benefit women and are designed to undermine women’s power and voice.

The simple idea of allowing only men to take multiple wives ensures this.

Given all of this, it’s not surprising to notice that the religions that oppress women the most support and promote polygamy for men and are against same-sex marriages. It’s easy for outsiders to see the shame, guilt and brainwashing done by these churches to their followers, but you don’t even need to go into that to explain the intolerable living conditions for women in these religions—you just need “The Market for Marriage”.

These women have grown up in an isolated society where they expected zero benefits from marriage since before they even knew what marriage was…The moral of this story is, if you are a man who wants a woman (women) to be completely subservient to you and your every whim, to make you feel powerful, start a religion and ensure only men can take multiple wives. The incentives will take care of the rest.

And one more tidbit, powerful people don’t need experiences or people to remind them they are powerful…if you are seeking power over others, you have forgotten who you really are and your innate power…

May we all remember, the TRUTH of who we are.

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