Plural Marriage vs. Monogamy: Definition & Types

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  • 0:01 Definition of Polygamy
  • 0:55 Polygyny
  • 2:12 Polyandry
  • 3:01 Group Marriage
  • 3:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will seek to explain plural marriage. In doing so, it will define polygyny, polyandry, and group marriage, while also giving examples from around the globe.

Definition of Polygamy

Due to the success of some new reality TV shows, the idea of plural marriage is pretty familiar to most of us. However, despite what cable TV presents, plural marriage doesn't always just look like some blonde-haired guy married to four women with a gaggle of kids in tow. In fact, some plural marriages see one woman married to several different men. With this in mind, today's lesson will seek to explain the different types of plural marriage found around the globe.

To begin, plural marriage is also referred to as polygamy, being married to more than one spouse at the same time. Although very unlike Westernized monogamy, or marriage to only one spouse at a time, polygamy plays a very large role in cultures around the globe. With this in mind, we're going to take a look at three types of polygamy. They are polygyny, polyandry, and group marriage. Since polygyny is the most common of the three, we'll start with it.


Stated very simply, polygyny is the marriage of one man to more than one woman at the same time. Trying to make this one easy to remember, I link the letters 'gy' in 'polygyny' to the 'gy' in 'gynecology.' For those of you who don't know, that's simply a branch of medicine devoted to women. Again using some pneumonic tricks, we could also remember polygyny as a guy named Paul being married to Genie, Ginene, and Gina!

Seen all throughout history, a great example of this is the famous King Solomon of the Bible, who was recorded to have about 700 wives - hands down probably the best all-time example of polygyny and pretty hard to beat. However, it would be a mistake to think that polygyny only occurred in ancient times. It is still alive and kicking around the globe. For example, it's seen in the culture of the Luyha people of Kenya, Africa, as well as in parts of the Mormon faith of our modern world.

When speaking of polygyny, it's usually broken down into two types. There is sororal polygyny, as in 'sorority,' in which the wives of a plural marriage are biological sisters. There's also nonsororal polygyny, in which the wives of a plural marriage are not sisters.


Leaving polygyny, we now turn to its counterpart of sorts, polyandry. Less common than polygyny, polyandry is the marriage of one woman to more than one man at the same time. Helping to keep this one straight, we can think of it as Polly being married to Andy, Allen, and Art all at the same time.

As previously mentioned, polyandry is rare and less common than polygyny within our world. However, it's still alive, if not perhaps kicking. For instance, it's seen in the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal and the Toda people of India.

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