Marriage, Polygamy, and Heart Disease

Marriage Appears to Reduce Heart Disease Among Men. Unless They Have Multiple Wives.poly

It is widely believed that married people are healthier and live longer. This is true, but not for the reasons you might think.

For instance, perceived marital happiness, satisfaction with the marriage, and frequency of disagreements were not related to either heart health, or death from all causes. This seems odd. One would surely expect some pleasant, cheerful couple to outlive one that squabbled constantly.

So what are the factors? Conflict resolution seems to be the big one. People that ‘keep the peace’ and internalize the conflict have a much higher rate of heart attacks. Again we see stress playing a role. Married men that were stressed out at work also had a higher rate of heart disease.

This should come as no surprise. Stress is a killer, significantly increasing the risk of both heart disease and cancer.

Is Polygamy Healthy?

“Only if you don’t get caught,” isn’t the correct answer. At a recent European medical conference, a Saudi Arabian cardiologist, a Dr. Daoulah decided to weigh in with: “There is evidence that married people have better overall health and longevity but until now no study has assessed the effect of polygamy on cardiovascular health.”

This study would be a bit hard to perform in non-Muslim countries. Muslims are allowed up to four wives. The reverse situation, however, is not allowed—no polyandry. (The Saudi kings, apparently have an exemption from the four-wife limit, with some of them having several dozen.) Normally, a man cannot have multiple wives unless he can afford them.

In Dr. Daolah’s study, 68% of the men were monogamous, 19% had two wives, 10% three, and 3% had four wives—the usual maximum.

Dr. Daoulah found that heart disease increased with each additional wife, and that those with four experience a 400% higher risk. Dr. Daoulah was unable to offer any explanation for this. How about stress? Think of all the possible issues?

The study did not adjust for numerous confounding factors. Multiple wives is apparently considered a bit old fashioned. Polygamists tend to be older, wealthier, and located in rural areas.

The Sexy Son Hypothesis

Dr. Daoulah was incorrect in his statement that polygamy had not been studied. The ‘Sexy Son Hypothesis’, cooked up by one Sir Ronald Fisher, dates from the ‘30’s. In this model, it is assumed that the most important property for reproductive success is maximizing the reproductive ability of the progeny. Therefore rather than looking for a reliable ‘good father’ like partners, a woman will choose the fleeting ‘hot guy’ so as to have sexy sons who, like their father, would engage in a lot of reproduction. However, this had no imputed health benefits to the sexy hit-and-run dad.

Though it makes some vague sense, the Sexy Son Hypothesis is easily demolished, and offers little beyond a possible explanation for a scientist’s bad luck with women.

In spite of possible health problems, polygamy has been widely practiced historically: Muslim countries still, and Asian countries until around 100 years ago. In the Christian era, restrictions are seen starting in the New Testament, and this was generally the law, though various exceptions were made. Martin Luther granted the philanderous Landgrave Philip of Hesse dispensation to secretly take a second wife, and Germany, reacting to the huge loss of life in the 30 Years War of the 17th century allowed men to marry up to ten women provided: “men were admonished to behave honorably, provide for their wives properly, and prevent animosity among them.” Stressful? No health information from this cohort.

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