Alcohol = Monogamy?

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Ever wonder--at college parties or otherwise--about the connection between alcohol consumption and monogamy?

Mara Squicciarini and Jo Swinnen did--apparently, at first, over a glass of wine--and have detailed their conclusions in a paper published by the American Association of Wine Economists. It turns out, alcohol and polygyny appear to be an either-or:

First, we do find an historical correlation between a global shift from polygyny to monogamy and the growth of alcohol consumption. Second, [Mormon, Muslim, and African tribal groups that still practice polygyny] also forbid alcohol consumption. Third, using historical data on pre-industrial societies--among which there are a substantial number of cases of polygyny--we find a cross-cultural correlation: monogamous societies drink less alcohol than polygynous societies.

Why? The study's authors walk us through some pivotal moments in history:

The Greeks and Romans spread both formal monogamy and viticulture across the ancient world. With the decline of the Roman Empire, the Christian Church maintained and reinforced formal monogamy, albeit that effective polygyny remained widely practiced. At the same time monasteries became centers of brewing and winemaking techniques and spread viticulture around Europe. The industrial revolution brought about the major and definitive change towards effective monogamy and popularization of alcohol consumption. Both changes (in alcohol consumption and in marriage arrangements) were induced by changes in social structures, economic developments and technological innovations associated with the industrial revolution.

Responding to a question from Stephen Dubner at Freakonomics about whether monogamous societies consume alcohol to preserve their marriage practices, Swinnen said the research doesn't indicate that monogamy directly leads to alcohol consumption or vice versa. Instead, it demonstrates "that other factors affect both alcohol consumption and the shift from polygamy to monogamy."

(h/t: Stephen Dubner)

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