June 05, 2012

Religion vs. cuckoldry

From the press release:
The study analyzed genetic data on 1,706 father-son pairs in a traditional African population—the Dogon people of Mali, West Africa—in which Islam, two types of Christianity, and an indigenous, monotheistic religion are practiced in the same families and villages.

"We found that the indigenous religion allows males to achieve a significantly lower probability of cuckoldry—1.3 percent versus 2.9 percent," said Beverly Strassmann, lead author of the article and a biological anthropologist at the University of Michigan.

In the traditional religion, menstrual taboos are strictly enforced, with women exiled for five nights to uncomfortable menstrual huts. According to Strassmann, the religion uses the ideology of pollution to ensure that women honestly signal their fertility status to men in their husband's family.

"When a woman resumes going to the menstrual hut following her last birth, the husband's patrilineage is informed of the imminency of conception and cuckoldry risk," Strassmann said. "Precautions include postmenstrual copulation initiated by the husband and enhanced vigilance by his family."

Across all four of the religions practiced by the Dogon people, Strassmann and colleagues detected father-son Y DNA mismatches in only 1.8 percent of father-son pairs, a finding that contradicts the prevailing view that traditional populations have high rates of cuckoldry. A similar rate of cuckoldry has been found in several modern populations, but a key difference is that the Dogon do not use contraception.
The overall rate of 1.8% is close to a reported average of 1.7% (or 1.9%) in a set of different populations. One point of interest is that it may be the case that cuckoldry may often involve patrilineal relatives of a woman's husband (e.g., his brother) or even distant relatives who happen to possess Y chromosomes with shallow common ancestry in a patriarchal society. Such events may not be detectable with a simple Y-STR test, but they may be relatively common in patrilocal societies where brides become part of their husband's communities.

PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1110442109

Religion as a means to assure paternity

Beverly I. Strassmann et al.

The sacred texts of five world religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism) use similar belief systems to set limits on sexual behavior. We propose that this similarity is a shared cultural solution to a biological problem: namely male uncertainty over the paternity of offspring. Furthermore, we propose the hypothesis that religious practices that more strongly regulate female sexuality should be more successful at promoting paternity certainty. Using genetic data on 1,706 father–son pairs, we tested this hypothesis in a traditional African population in which multiple religions (Islam, Christianity, and indigenous) coexist in the same families and villages. We show that the indigenous religion enables males to achieve a significantly (P = 0.019) lower probability of cuckoldry (1.3% versus 2.9%) by enforcing the honest signaling of menstruation, but that all three religions share tenets aimed at the avoidance of extrapair copulation. Our findings provide evidence for high paternity certainty in a traditional African population, and they shed light on the reproductive agendas that underlie religious patriarchy.



andrew said...

Perhaps women willing to have affairs are in general less attached to traditional norms and hence are more likely to become religious converts.

shenandoah said...

It's really sad that women are treated like breeders, chattel, property, in Patriarchal societies. Naturally, the more control you have over your heifers, the less likelihood that they'll ever out- or mis-breed. But women aren't cattle. Generally speaking, men who are raised and live in Matriarchal societies are more attractive to women. They actually ~love their wives and mothers. They don't abuse them, and will in fact risk their lives to protect them and their honor. If the wife ever has had enough of the husband, she tells him so -- and he leaves HER home (which he often has built for her and the children), without any argument.

Average Joe said...

Generally speaking, men who are raised and live in Matriarchal societies are more attractive to women

Could you provide examples of such societies?

Katharós said...

Without wanting to generalize,but one the more peculiar phonemes within ME societies is that young women who marry elderly men end up having a close relationship with their Husbands grown up Sons.

princenuadha said...

"It's really sad that women are treated like breeders, chattel, property, in Patriarchal societies."

This is just rhetoric. Men were seen as utilities for which women could extract resources as men competed and risked their lives. I'd rather be the cow that lives than the bull who is slaughtered. What you call the patriachy could all be reduced to the fact that women the womb is in shorter supply than the sperm which allows women to be more choosy and men to be more replacible (biologically, not morally!).

> They don't abuse them, and will in fact risk their lives to protect them and their honor.

And do women do the same or are you pushing an abusive model where men's lives are less valuable?

Also, women are just as violent to their partners as the reverse, so says hundreds of studies. http://csulb.edu/%7Emfiebert/assault.htm

Even though your entire comment was a red herring as a distraction from the genuine problem of cockoldry, I still felt I had to address such myths.

shenandoah said...

Right, Patriarchal societies are aggressive, militaristic and consumeristic. They developed weapons during the iron age, and used them to senselessly kill off more peaceful tribes... to steal their land. If you think such practices won't backfire on them, just wait and see. The Cherokee were a Matriarchal society which grew so much corn they never went hungry. Europeans got corn from them, used Cherokee warriors to fight their wars, and pushed their customs (including the Patriarchy) on them. But face it: the Europeans also wiped out MANY, many other ~Patriarchal societies too -- including a lot of Native American tribes not Cherokee, who also hadn't yet entered the iron age. Murder is an art for the Patriarchs; they don't care who they kill. But that doesn't make them superior to Matriarchs, nor does it ensure their future survival in the ~long term.

Anonymous said...


I don't know if I should even bother addressing you, you sound like a gender feminist to me and gender feminists have no concern for truth or evidence.

But either way, first off, matriarchal societies where females dominate men have never existed in the historical record, and even if they did, their number would have been so very very small so as to constitute aberrations not some previous norm.

Now, if by matriarchy you mean matrilineal society then yes those have existed. But they aren't some feminist utopia of loving sensitive males who care for women and their children in some egalitarian paradise.

In societies where women can provision for themselves and their children independently, and there are no restrictions on their sexuality whatsoever, these tend to be societies where the men engage in minimal paternal investment, and spend their time trying to be the biggest bad boys around, often forming gangs/warrior bands.

Now, this is predictable from principles from evolutionary biology and psychology, that is as women can sustain themselves and their children from their own provisioning, they will no longer select for men who can bring provisioning abilities to the table as there is a limit to the utility of provided resources (a belly can only be so full) and instead they will select for men bringing other reproductive resources to the table. This results in men shifting their effort from provisioning to mating effort. What does that mean? It means being the sexiest male around. And what do women find sexy? Testosterone charged males who are big, bad, and brooding.

Basically, matrilineal societies are cad societies and patrilineal societies are dad societies.

While in cad societies there is less centralised and organised warfare, as that generally requires a certain amount of economic and organisational development that only ever emerges in dad societies, cad societies nonetheless have a shitload of decentralised and disorganised violence.

I suggest you have a read of this:


It's a summary of the chapters on Human Cultural Diversity in the 10 000 year explosion. A book written by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending.

It goes into detail about the sorts of societies that emerge under matrilineal mating systems.

princenuadha said...

"these tend to be societies where the men engage in minimal paternal investment"

I don't understand this. We have evolved a huge need for fatherhood. The fathers hormones will change after his child's birth, presumably to encourage paternal investment. Also, children's time with their father, independent of material gain, has been shown to be very important in a child's development. In other words, father are needed for more than just money.

So what happens in a matrilinial society that screws this up? Do the fathers not have rights over their kids, and kids are seen as belonging to women? Do the fathers not invest in their kids because they don't know which ones belong to them? Or do they just appear unmotivated at raising children in general?

Also, is there any form of paternal expression that still shows itself?

shenandoah said...

Chris, you sound very chauvinistic, but I'll talk to you anyhow... The Cherokee was a Matrilineal civilization when the Europeans arrived here, and at that time they were the greatest, most powerful, and most populous Native tribe in America, at least East of the Mississippi river. Their corn (or "maize") crops were so vast, that one Spanish conquistador reported that he could ride his horse at a gallop around one field all day long, and never get back to his starting point. The women grew that corn, but the men did all of the hunting for meat, built their homes, and protected all the tribe from foreign invasions. Early American historians have reported that the Cherokee men were the BEST Indian warriors, and extremely hard to beat in battle. According to their own legends (which is how they recorded their history -- orally), the men of that tribe once completely eliminated one whole clan of their own people, a "priestly" clan which was so evil that they had taken to raping their women (much like the Brahmins of India, who used to have the privilege of sex with whomever they chose). The men were also respected by their women, for their intelligence, wisdom, and high moral standards. Cherokee men led their tribal councils, although women were definitely permitted to speak too. All of their ~chiefs until modern times, were ~men. The Cherokee was one of the few Native American tribes which had strict laws against things like murder, rape, and especially against ~cannibalism. Their men were not "cads", prior to their acceptance of Patriarchal customs.

shenandoah said...

princenuadha, in Matriarchal societies, the children belong to the wife's ~clan (the whole clan, basically, because all the women and unmarried men help raise and protect them). The children's ~maternal uncles and own ~fathers teach the young boys how to be good men. The girls learn how to be good women from all the women, including their own mothers. Each family unit (mother, father, and children) have their own separate home, however. When a couple gets married, the husband goes with his wife to live among ~her clan, where she and their children are bound to receive an abundance of loving care and protection. And if a husband should ever die in battle or otherwise abandon his family, she doesn't have any reason to fear that she and her children will perish for lack of support -- they're always surrounded by extended family.