Where there are no good men left

Chechen prime minister suggests multiple wives as a solution to missing men.

Published February 21, 2006 9:14PM (EST)

Despite its reputation as every man's dream, the practice of having multiple wives (called polygyny; polygamy is having more than one wife or husband) is not that common. In fact, it originated as a way to take care of war widows. Hence, this was the logic behind the recent comment by the acting prime minister of war-torn and male-short Chechnya: "Each man who can provide for four wives should do it."

Obviously, having to share one husband does not sound like the best deal for women, but Financial Times columnist Tim Harford points out in his article "The Economic Case for Polygamy," recently posted on Slate, that polygyny, if used correctly, can be a boon for women. "In a society with equal numbers of men and women, each man with four wives gives women the additional pick of three men -- the poor saps whose potential wives decided they'd prefer one-quarter of a billionaire instead," he writes. This logic actually mirrors my mother's suggested dating strategy: Let the other women fight over Mr. Charming Beefcake, while you have your pick of the slightly awkward nice guys, who will ply you with foie gras and make excellent husbands indeed!

However, Harford concedes that in a society such as Chechnya, where there's a shortage of men resulting from their having been killed in the conflict with Russia, men may have a clear advantage. And he attempts to make a parallel with African-American society, where the large number of imprisoned men creates a shortage of marriage partners for women. There, he argues, men hold all the cards. They can be choosier, while women may have to accept someone less educated. Yet there is an unexpected upside of these drastic demographics, he contends: African-American women have been forced to become more self-reliant. "The women affected do everything to make the most of single life, including staying at school for longer and hunting for more paid work," Harford writes.

So let's review the supposed options if your society is hurting for testosterone: Either you either can cuddle up at night alone with your degrees, or your prime minister can appeal to the last of the Chechen man pickings to take you in under the guise of marriage because you presumably cant survive on your own.

For women who don't want to share or settle, what about a ticket to China? With all the selective abortion of girls, they're expecting 30 million "surplus" males there by 2020.

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at sarah@saraherichards.com.

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