Polyandry is a form of polygamy—multiple marriage—in which a woman marries more than one man.

What is Polyandry?

Polyandry occurs when a woman marries multiple husbands. It differs from polygyny–polygamy that occurs when a man marries multiple wives. Polyandry may also be broadly used to refer to a female animal having multiple mates at the same time.

Polyandry Across Cultures

Worldwide, polyandry is much less common than polygymy. Anthropologists and sociologists have posited a number of explanations for this, including the fact that polygyny is correlated with women’s equality, the fact that women are often viewed as men’s subordinates, and the fact that women often have fewer resources than men and therefore cannot support multiple mates.

Societies that do practice polyandry do so for different reasons, but the practice is most common in tribal groups. Societies that practice polyandry might do so to ensure that all potential fathers have a relationship with their children, to ensure proper distribution of resources, to allow many men to benefit from the wealth of one family, or to compensate for a lack of marriageable women. In most polyandrous societies, polyandry is not mandatory and is only practiced by a few women; there may be polygynous men in the same group. Polyandry also helps to slow the birth rate of a group, so is common in areas with few resources. The most common form of polyandry occurs when a woman marries multiple men in the same family–often a group of brothers.

Many religions that allow polygyny or that have polygyny in their history prohibit polyandry. These religions include Judaism, Islam, and most Christian denominations.


  1. Polyandry, or the practice of taking multiple husbands. (n.d.). Io9. Retrieved from http://io9.com/5925324/polyandry-or-the-practice-of-taking-multiple-husbands
  2. Schwimmer, B. (n.d.). Polyandry. University of Manitoba. Retrieved from http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/arts/anthropology/tutor/marriage/polyandry.html

Last Updated: 08-18-2015

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