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Whither families

David Friedman at his fascinating Ideas blogsite speculates on the future of families.

Paternity testing means that monogamy is not needed by men to insure that the children they raise are their own. Indeed ‘it is now possible to combine any mating pattern from strict monogamy to complete promiscuity with assured paternity’.

A constraint here is that male sexual jealousy may be hardwired by evolution (this link also discusses distinctively female non-sexual jealousy) which will motivate something close to conventional monogamy. A taste for promiscuity however may offset this leading to some form of group marriage. To some extent this has already happened, driven by a slightly older technology—reliable contraception.

Friedman recommends the alt.polyamory web site of interest. This gives access to chat rooms and other online resources.

4 comments to Whither families

  • lesleym

    Looking at this in the longer term, if male fertility continues to decline further, there will be greater pressure on fertile males to do the altruistic thing and provide the necessary genes for the survival of the race. I think the tradeoff will have to be the requirement that the non-fertile male must be given due recognition for his willingness to support his non-biological offspring.

  • hc

    Lesley, your comment was repeated so I deleted the copy of it.

    There’s not a lot of altruism in male sexual desire is there? What interests me is that contraception separates sexual desire from any need to consider family-raising.

    Even with infertile males there are plenty of sperm out there.

    I’d like to follow up the lead on decreasing fertility of men. So in a group marriage setting more males would be ‘firing blanks’ but they none-the-less would have to pay for groceries. It’s an interesting idea.

    The fertile males presumably have higher bargaining power within a group and this potency can be identified,

  • lesleym

    Sorry about that repeated comment. Thought the first one was a misfire!
    You said, “Even with infertile males there are plenty of sperm out there.”
    B ut it becomes increasingly difficult to spread them around!
    See:
    http://www.iussp.org/Activities/scc-ant/ant-rep95.php
    “Lee and Feng indicated that high fertility may not have been the chief motive for polygyny. Men in both kinds of unions stopped reproducing at ages that were strikingly young; indeed, second wives appear to have had fertility rates substantially lower than those of first wives.”

    You said,”The fertile males presumably have higher bargaining power within a group and this potency can be identified,”
    What’s sauce for the goose….
    If men can bargain wih their sperm, women can equally well control access to their uteri. After all, she needs to produce only one child to replace herself. (Hence the infertile partner has some bargaining power in agreeing to support any further offspring of the fertile male.)

  • hc

    LesleyM, I don’t know this literature. But I went to the site you suggested. Lee and Feng’s result suggests men give most sexual attention to the new arrival which seems right. I didn’t understand the rest.

    Haven’t women always used their uterus as a bargaining chip? They are the one’s often ‘left-with-the-kid’ and need to bargain hard to gain ongoing support. Standard in the socio-biology literature.

    I am interested in your claims about secular decline in male fertility which I have read a little about. I’ll chase it up.