Human Nature

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 130–150

Serial Monogamy as Polygyny or Polyandry?

Marriage in the Tanzanian Pimbwe

DOI: 10.1007/s12110-009-9060-x

Cite this article as:
Borgerhoff Mulder, M. Hum Nat (2009) 20: 130. doi:10.1007/s12110-009-9060-x


Applications of sexual selection theory to humans lead us to expect that because of mammalian sex differences in obligate parental investment there will be gender differences in fitness variances, and males will benefit more than females from multiple mates. Recent theoretical work in behavioral ecology suggests reality is more complex. In this paper, focused on humans, predictions are derived from conventional parental investment theory regarding expected outcomes associated with serial monogamy and are tested with new data from a postreproductive cohort of men and women in a primarily horticultural population in western Tanzania (Pimbwe). Several predictions derived from the view that serial monogamy is a reproductive strategy from which males benefit are not supported. Furthermore, Pimbwe women are the primary beneficiaries of multiple marriages. The implications for applications of sexual selection theory to humans are discussed, in particular the fact that in some populations women lead sexual and reproductive lives that are very different from those derived from a simple Bateman-Trivers model.


Sexual selectionParental investmentFemale strategiesSerial monogamyDivorceAfrican marriage

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anthropology, Graduate Group in Ecology, and Population Biology Graduate GroupUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA