October 07, 2019

Husband, Lover, Pater, Genitor: Paternity and concurrency in northwest Namibia

Brooke Scelza, University of California, Los Angeles

Research on human mate preferences has been conducted mainly in industrialized societies, where multiple mating and concurrent partnerships are heavily stigmatized. However, cross-culturally, extra-pair partnerships are more common, and there is significant variation in the acceptance of such relationships, particularly for women. In order to better understand how a system of concurrency can be maintained, I will present data from 10 years of fieldwork with Himba pastoralists living in northwest Namibia, a culture where nonmarital partnerships are both common and normatively sanctioned. After presenting demographic data on the rates of concurrency and paternity in this population, I will discuss the potential benefits to women of having multiple partners, using both quantitative and qualitative data. Next, I will explore the reasons why men might tolerate, or even support, such a system, despite the paternity loss that accompanies non-marital sex. Finally, I will discuss how social norms about extra-marital sex, jealousy and paternal care support a system of concurrency in this population.