Polygamy: How Common Is It?

Mormonism founder Joseph Smith, Jr. and his polygamist family

Mormonism founder Joseph Smith, Jr. and his polygamist family

“The Talk” host Julie Chen revealed a family secret this week: her maternal grandfather was a polygamist. He had nine wives.

We’ve all seen “Big Love,” the HBO show centering on a Mormon man (Bill Paxton) and his three wives (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin) that ran 2006-2011. The show single-handedly brought a depiction of modern polygamy into premium cable holders’ homes and greater mainstream culture.

How common is polygamy, both in the United States and the world?

Oprah’s “Polygamy in America” report cites experts at putting the US number between 30K and 50K. Another source notes that it’s difficult to find hard numbers on polygamists because plural marriages aren’t documented.

In the greater world, Polygamy Stop estimates another 100K+ people are practice polygamy in Western Europe. The site also notes that polygamy is legal in over 150 countries in Africa, the Middle East and various countries in the Third World (none are specified).

If anything, this news gives Chen quite the conversation-starter for her next dinner party.

 

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