What Drives Monogamy?

Posted on August 1, 2013

I am not trying to sound intellectual here but when I am traveling for work, as I seem to do a lot lately, I have started listening to BBC Radio 4 in my car.

This is because early in the morning, I can think of nothing more irritating emanating from my car stereo than local radio disc jockeys, who, if I am entirely honest, need knee capping.

Actually I lied, there is something more irritating than local radio disc jockeys and that is attempting to listen to Radio 5 on Medium Wave. Anyway, on Radio 4 the other morning, there was a mini feature about a study of why only 3% of mammals have evolved into having monogamous relationships.

Since discovering that monogamy didn’t involve New Year’s Eve, I have always thought that it was something that had evolved in civilised countries as a way of creating a strong society for as much as anything, socio-economic reasons. However, according to this study, monogamy stems from the male needing to hang around to protect his infants from being murdered by another male.

Apparently, back in the olden days (Well 75 million years ago actually) a female primate was infertile whilst lactating, so the only way for a predatory male to crack it with her, was to take the somewhat draconian step of killing her infants. Oh the things we do for love?

As a result the father, in a bid to protect his infants, would stick around rather than going through the hassle of going off to find a more attractive primate, only to find out he would need to kill her infants to stand a chance. It appears that even the earliest primate males were rapidly adopting what modern man often terms as “Anything for an easier life.”

According to the study, the female had ways of protecting their young too, with rabid promiscuity resulting in multiple children. This method was used to confuse males into not killing any infants at all, as it may result in them inadvertently killing their own. I guess, it was also a good excuse for the female to have plenty of sexual gratification without being accused of being the community bike?

75 millions of years on, this Neanderthal behaviour can still be seen in sink estates just outside Bradford, with the participants justifying their actions through a bullshit detector on Jeremy Kyle as I watch on, knowing in my heart of hearts, that I shouldn’t be blaming a mild head cold for making me watch such utter, albeit curiously addictive, dross.

So the theory is this. You do not get monogamy unless you already have infanticide, and you do not get a switch to paternal care if you don’t already have monogamy. However, Monogamy is only one strategy for dealing with infanticide. But it’s not the only one. Females would mate with all the males in their group to confuse paternity so males won’t attack. In the meantime males stick with females to protect them and their children.

I’ll let you work out whether it was the male or the female who got the better deal, though it appears the females had far more fun, liberally throwing their keys (or twigs) on to the table with all the regularity of a suburban couple at a 1970’s dinner party.

Try Radio 4 sometime, because even the calming influence of the Shipping Forecast is more interesting than listening to Heart FM.


1 Reply to "What Drives Monogamy?"

  • Dickie McSpangle
    August 2, 2013 (1:12 pm)

    Could you be called the “community bike” 75 million years ago?

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