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June 4th, 2014

Polygamy and world population sex ratio

Recently there was a discussion on a Pakistani TV channel about the Ulama's opposition to Ayub Khan's Family Law Ordinance of the 1960s, one point under discussion being that this law attempted to restrict polygamy. Those supporting the Ulama were arguing that in Islam it is a man's right and his choice to marry more than one woman.

It struck me recently that the number of males and females in the population of any country must be about equal. Any variation, with country or with age group, (I remembered reading a long time ago) would be about 5%. Therefore, for every 100 males there would exist at the most 105 females. On a simplistic basis, this would suggest that, after each of those 100 males has married one female, there are only 5 females left available to those 100 males to contract a polygamous marriage with!

I have looked up statistics of sex ratio by country and by age within countries. Please see this link.

If you look at the map in the top right corner, and glance at Muslim countries, you will see that they are among the countries where the number of males is greater than the number of females!

Looking at the table of countries, in all countries slightly more males are born than females. We can also look at column 4, which is for the age group 15 to 64 and may be more relevant in our discussion. In this age group, per 100 females Pakistan has 105 males, Iran has 102, Turkey 102, Egypt 103, Indonesia 101, Malaysia 101.

(Note that for this age group only, figures for the Gulf states are distorted due to foreign workers being largely male, so Qatar has 246 males per 100 females in this range!)

It is only in the over 65 group that we find a larger number of females than males. This is due to women having a greater life expectancy than men (Pakistan has 88 males per 100 females in this group).

On the basis of this data, the scope for polygamy is extremely limited. The only way to have significant polygamy would be for some men to deprive other men of having even one wife! For instance, out of 100 men, 50 men could marry two women each, thus leaving 50 men without a wife!

Zahid Aziz.

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