Skip to main content


Log in

Humans and Harems? Review of Out of Eden: The surprising consequences of polygamy by David Barash

  • Review Essay
  • Published:
Biology & Philosophy Aims and scope Submit manuscript


In “Out of Eden” (Barash in Out of Eden, Oxford University Press, New York, 2016) David Barash argues that humans are naturally polygamous, in that they have innate polygamous preferences. In particular, Barash argues that human males have preferences and other psychological states designed to support aggressive polygynous sexual competition, and that the resulting behavior has driven the selection of various other psychological and behavioral traits in humans. This is controversial, since the prevailing view of the human mating system in our recent evolutionary history was that it was choice-based and only mildly polygynous. In this review I evaluate Barash’s arguments and conclude that he has not made his case for the stronger view.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. There is a partial exception in the form of “sneaker” based systems where less showy males mate with females when the “harem keeping” male is absent. However while these males in such systems are sometimes getting sex based on female choice they are decidedly not engaging in choice based “showing off”.


  • Barash DP (1977) Sociobiology and behavior. Elsevier, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Barash DP (2016) Out of Eden. Oxford University Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Barash DP, Lipton JE (2001) The myth of monogamy: fidelity and infidelity in animals and people. W. H. Freeman, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Buss D (2016) The evolution of desire. Basic Books, New York

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Dixson AF (1998) Primate sexuality. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Dixson AF (2009) Sexual selection and the origins of human mating systems. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Gurven M (2004) To give and to give not: the behavioral ecology of human food transfers. Behav Brain Sci 27:543–583

    Google Scholar 

  • Harcourt AH, Harvery PH, Larson SG et al (1981) Testis weight, body weight and breeding system in primates. Nature 293:55–57

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hawkes K (1991) Showing off: tests of an hypothesis about men’s foraging goals. Ethol Sociobiol 12:29–54

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hawkes K, O’Connell JF, Blurton Jones NG et al (1998) Grandmothering, Menopause and the evolution of human life histories. Proc Natl Acad Sci 95(3):1336–1339

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hawkes K, O’Connell JF, Coxwoth JE (2010) Family provisioning is not the only reason men hunt. Curr Anthropol 51:259–264

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hill K, Hurtado AM (1996) Ache life history. Aldine de Gruyter, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Kaplan H (1994) Evolutionary and wealth flows theories of fertility: empirical tests and new models. Popul Dev Rev 20(4):753–791

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kaplan H, Robson AJ (2002) The emergence of humans: the coevolution of intelligence and longevity with intergenerational transfers. Proc Natl Acad Sci 99(15):10221–10226

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kaplan H, Hill K, Lancaster J et al (2000) A theory of human life history evolution: diet, intelligence, and longevity. Evol Anthropol 9:156–185

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Marlowe F (2001) Male contribution to diet and female reproductive success among foragers. Curr Anthropol 42(5):755–760

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Miller G (2000) The mating mind: how sexual choice shaped the evolution of human nature. Doubleday/Random House, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Plavcan JM (2012) Body size, size variation, and sexual size dimorphism in early homo. Curr Anthropol 53(S6):S409–S423

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Reno PL, Meindl RS, McCollum MA et al (2003) Sexual dimorphism in Australopithecus afarensis was similar to that of modern humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci 100(16):9404–9409

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Catherine Driscoll.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Driscoll, C. Humans and Harems? Review of Out of Eden: The surprising consequences of polygamy by David Barash. Biol Philos 32, 615–625 (2017).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: