Women or Wine? Monogamy and Alcohol


The headline is the title of an intriguing new working paper [PDF] by two University of Leuven economists Mara Squicciarini and Jo Swinnen. The two note an interesting correlation between societies that practice monogamy and those that drink alcohol. As the abstract explains:

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.

In fact the two economists find that more drinking means more monogamy. So what are the possible explanations for this correlation? After performing a cross-cultural analysis using historical data, they find:

There is a strong negative correlation between polygyny and Frequency of Drunkenness.

Or conversely put, the data:

…indicate a positive correlation between monogamy and alcohol consumption (and especially between monogamy and drunkenness) across societies.

(I am charmed by the fact that some academicians have gone to the trouble of generating such a thing as a Frequency of Drunkenness ethnographic index.)

Squicciarini and Swinnen note that formal monogamy was introduced in ancient Greece and Rome which were wine drinking societies as a opposed to beer swilling societies. As wine-making spread through Europe monogamy also expanded. I am less persuaded by their over all analysis of alcohol consumption and male competition for resources, but take a look and see what you think.