New study: Monogamy linked to ... alcohol?

Via Reason, something frothy and delicious on a slow holiday hangover news day.

Here’s the abstract from the paper; their hypotheses begin on page 23. Alternate headline: “Confirmed: Monogamy drives people to drink.”

Intriguingly, across the world the main social groups which practice polygyny do not consume alcohol. We investigate whether there is a correlation between alcohol consumption and polygynous/monogamous arrangements, both over time and across cultures. Historically, we find a correlation between the shift from polygyny to monogamy and the growth of alcohol consumption. Cross-culturally we also find that monogamous societies consume more alcohol than polygynous societies in the preindustrial world. We provide a series of possible explanations to explain the positive correlation between monogamy and alcohol consumption over time and across societies.

Note the word “correlation.” I only had time to skim, but it looks like they’re careful not to imply causation. Modern polygamous teetotaler cultures (Muslims, old-school Mormons) are religiously driven — keep your mind clear and focused on God and propagate the faith — but what about our secular-ish western culture? Why do we default to boozy monogamy? The paper’s chief theory: The Greeks and Romans emphasized monogamy because it was more egalitarian and increased social stability. As their empires spread, so did monogamy — and wine, their beverage of choice — and as their empires decayed, Christianity emerged to preserve the underpinnings of the imperial culture. Fast-forward 1,500 years to the Industrial Revolution and suddenly everyone’s so worn down from work that all they want to do is find a nice girl to settle down with and get drunk. Or something like that; the authors lost me around page 27. Left unexplained: Why hasn’t polygamy persisted among the idle rich? They’re not exhausted from working 12-hours days, and faithful obedience to Judeo-Christian morals has never been their thing. In fact, to take it a step further, as western culture becomes less religious and technology makes labor less burdensome, shouldn’t we see a revival of polygamy among the well to do? Or do they effectively already practice polygamy notwithstanding their formal observance of monogamy? Only one thing is certain, my friends: When polygamy finally makes a comeback, the beta males are in deep, deep trouble.