Polygamy is legal in 50 countries around the world. Most of these countries exist in Africa, southeast Asia, and the Middle East. They are represented by dark blue on the map to the right. Another 15 African countries accept polygamy as part of their culture and it continues to exist even if it has been outlawed. This phenomena is due to differences in customary law (history and culture) and civil law. South Africa is an example of this. In some cases, civil law is reflective of colonization and not the temperature of the people.
An interesting note – some countries make the legality of polygyny contingent upon the first wife’s approval.
In the Past
Regional differences accounted for the disparate popularity of polygyny and polyandry.
Historically, in regions where resources were scarce sharing one wife was very common. This was seen as a practical solution. The costs of maintaining a family were distributed amongst several men and the number of offspring was limited. On the other hand, some matriarchal societies chose polyandry not out of economic necessity but because it reflected their cultural beliefs. And still other regions chose polyandry because men largely outnumbered women in their societies.
Polygany was seen as an extravagant display of wealth or blessings. If a man was important or wealthy, then he was more likely to have many wives.
Jewish law forbids polyandry but not polygyny.
Muslim law forbids polyandry but not polygyny.
Christianity (with the exception of Mormon Fundamentalism) forbids both polyandry and polygyny, strongly advocating for monogamous relationships.
Hindu text looks favorably upon polyandry but does not advocate in one way or the other.
Buddhist text advises followers against committing sexual misconduct but leaves it up to them to decide exactly what constitutes misconduct.
Paganism openly accepts all forms of polygamy/polyamory.
In Canada …
In USA …
In Turkey …
In South Africa …