Are Humans Monogamous? The Truth About Human Mating

are humans monogamous

The question of human monogamy sparks a lot of debate. Research shows evidence for both monogamous and polygamous behavior. Almost 85% of societies allow polygynous marriage. This is where a man can have more than one wife.

In these societies, most marriages are actually monogamous. This means they are between just one man and one woman. There’s also serial monogamy, common among tribes, modern and industrial societies. In this setup, people have several partners over their lifetimes.

Humans are known for “social monogamy.” This is when they form long-term pairs but not always stick to one partner. Surprisingly, only up to 11% of children don’t have their biological father. This is lower compared to birds that also practice social monogamy but often have different dads for their chicks.

Key Takeaways

  • The debate over whether humans are monogamous or not is complex, with evidence supporting both monogamous and polygamous mating patterns.
  • Cross-cultural data shows that while polygynous marriage is sanctioned in many societies, the majority of marriages are actually monogamous.
  • Humans practice “social monogamy”, forming long-term pair bonds within the same residential unit, even if sexual fidelity is not always maintained.
  • Estimates of non-paternity rates, a measure of extra-pair mating, are relatively low compared to socially monogamous bird species.
  • The prevalence of serial monogamy, where individuals have multiple partners over their lifetimes, is common across different societies.

Introduction to Human Mating Systems

Human mating behavior is a fascinating topic, full of diverse strategies and cultural influences. We’ll look at the various mating systems in different societies. These range from the common monogamous relationships to the less known polygynous and polyandrous partnerships.

Diversity of Mating Strategies Across Cultures

Humans are very versatile in their mating systems, greatly influenced by culture. The Standard Cross-Cultural Sample data shows something interesting. Even though many societies allow polygynous marriage, the marriages are mostly monogamous. This shows the complex nature of human mating, challenging simple ideas.

Defining Monogamy, Polygyny, and Polyandry

To understand human mating, we must define key terms. Monogamy means having only one partner. It could be for life or part of serial monogamy, where partners change over time. Polygyny is when a man has more than one wife, and polyandry is when a woman has more than one husband. Knowing these patterns helps us understand human relationships better.

Prevalence of Monogamous Marriages

In many societies, polygyny is allowed, but monogamous relationships remain common. From early societies to today, many practice serial monogamy. This means forming lifelong bonds but having different partners over time. Monogamous relationships still hold strong, showing their deep-rooted place in our societies.

Mating Strategy Definition Prevalence
Monogamy Having a single partner, either lifelong or through serial monogamy Widely practiced across cultures, with prevalence of serial monogamy
Polygyny A male having multiple female partners Sanctioned in nearly 85% of societies, but most marriages are monogamous
Polyandry A female having multiple male partners Relatively rare, found in a few isolated societies

Are Humans Monogamous?

To really know if humans used to be mainly monogamous, scientists studied our closest primate family. They looked at things like the size difference between males and females. When there was less difference, it usually meant the species was monogamous. But if males were a lot bigger than females, they were likely to be polygynous, where one male has lots of females.

Sexual Dimorphism and Monogamy in Humans

Humans don’t show as much size difference between males and females as some primates do. This tells us our ancestors might not have had to fight hard to win a mate. There are other signs too, like our small canine teeth. These are more like what you see in monogamous species. So, it seems like our ancestors might have been more into sticking with just one partner.

Comparative Evidence from Primates

Looking at sexual dimorphism and other features, we see a pattern emerge. It hints that human ancestors possibly preferred monogamy over having many partners. This stands out because some primate species tend to be more about males having multiple females.

sexual dimorphism

The Evolution of Monogamy in Humans

There are many fascinating ideas about how monogamy started in humans. One big theory suggests that it began because of female spacing and scarce resources. When females needed more space for limited goods, it was harder for males to have many mates. Staying with one female became a better way for males to make sure their genes survived.

Theories on the Origin of Monogamy

Another idea says that monogamy helped males protect their kids from harm. By sticking with one female and caring for their children together, males ensured the safety of their young ones. This became more important as our brains got bigger and babies needed more care.

Female Spacing and Resource Distribution

Theory has it that when females started needing more space for resources, males couldn’t have multiple mates. It was easier and more effective for males to reproduce by sticking with one female. This led to the growth of monogamous behavior.

Infanticide Avoidance and Male Parental Care

Monogamy might have started because it helped males know they were the fathers, avoiding harm to their children. By taking care of their shared young, these males had more offspring survive. Over time, this contributed to a more monogamous society.

Looking at many mammal species, studies have found some evidence for these ideas. They give us insight into how and why monogamy evolved in humans and our ancestors.

origin of monogamy

Social and Cultural Influences on Monogamy

Social and cultural factors are big parts of why humans are monogamous. They have helped shape our ways of mating. One theory points out how larger human groups and more STDs led to needing monogamy.

Monogamy keeps people from catching and spreading diseases. It also helps families keep their wealth and property together. This is often done through marriage. By marrying, people can focus on sharing and saving their stuff with only one partner.

But, people’s views on being with just one person are starting to change. Now, more women don’t want to share their partners with others. And instead of having one partner for life, some go from one long-term relationship to another. This shift in thinking shows how our ideas about love and commitment are always evolving.


The human mating system is complex, with many strategies seen in various societies and times. Most societies see monogamy as the main form of marriage and sex. But others have polygamous or polyandrous relationships, or they move between one partner to another over time.

How human monogamy started is still a big question. Some think it began to help space out births or to protect babies from being killed. Diseases that spread through sex might have also pushed people to stay with just one partner.

Yet, the things we’ve made in society, like the idea of marriage and sharing wealth, have a big part to play too. These ideas have helped shape how we find a mate, affecting different parts of the world in various ways.

The way people think about mating and the structures we build are always changing. This change keeps experts in fields like anthropology, psychology, and sociology interested. The many ways we form relationships show how flexible and creative humans are. We adapt to many influences, from our biology to our culture, in our search for love and family.


Are humans monogamous?

The debate over human monogamy is lively. Evidence shows we follow both monogamous and polygamous patterns. Worldwide, about 85% of cultures accept polygynous marriage. This is when a male has several females. But, most marriages in these cultures are actually monogamous.

What is the prevalence of monogamous marriages?

Serial monogamy, where a person has several partners in their life, is quite common. This happens in hunter-gatherer, growing, and Western societies. We’re said to have ‘social monogamy.’ This means forming long-term bonds within a home, even if not always sexually faithful.

What does the comparative evidence from primates suggest about human mating systems?

Experts study primates to learn about our ancestors’ ways. Humans have less obvious physical differences between males and females than many primates. This hints at a less aggressive mating style. We also have small canines and keep ovulation hidden, which hints at monogamy.

What theories have been proposed to explain the evolution of monogamy in humans?

Researchers have brainstormed several theories. One guess is that monogamy helped because females were spread out. This was influenced by the limited spots where resources were available. Another idea is that it helped males protect their young from being harmed by other males.

How have social and cultural influences shaped human mating systems?

Our mating system has been influenced by more than just biology. Social and cultural reasons also play a big role. For example, larger societies facing new diseases might have pushed for monogamous norms. The idea of marriage and passing possessions to the next generation also helped support the idea of monogamy.