We’d like to talk about something that hurts us.
“Polygamy” has one main face for the Canadian public: the fundamentalist offshoots of Mormonism in Bountiful, BC.
People seem to think Bountiful outnumbers egalitarian polyamorists. Sometime they seem to think there are no multiple partners outside Bountiful at all.
Modern polyamorists hugely outnumber Bountiful
Bountiful is tiny. There are probably about 33 polygynous families there, containing about 120 spouses… and those seem to represent most of the Mormonism-derived polygyny in Canada. There may be 10 or 15 independent families in “Mormon” polygyny outside Bountiful
We have specifically identified 112 egalitarian, secular conjugal polyamorous families in Canada, including over 350 spouses. That was with a quick survey, mostly promoted on a few Internet mailing lists. Even that number is over three times the size of Bountiful.
We think the real number is much higher, perhaps somewhere between 1100 and almost 17000 conjugal families (and, of course, many more non-conjugal polyamorists).
For every single Bountiful family that might be doing something bad, the Government(s) would make criminals of at least 33 polyamorous families. That’s the low estimate. The high estimate is more like 510. None of those polyamorous families are accused of any real wrong.
Why do people think that’s OK? We don’t think they do. We think they just don’t know the numbers.
[Numbers updated 2011-Nov-21; we now have a better (and lower) estimate for Muslims. See below for more on the confidence of all these numbers.]
What about Muslims?
If we’re going to count people, we have to admit most patriarchal polygynists in Canada have no Mormon connections. Most are almost certainly Muslims. Like polyamorists, Muslim polygynists vastly outnumber Bountiful. They don’t match polyamorous numbers, but they’re significant.
Many activists, on all sides, prefer to say that “polygamy” doesn’t include conjugal polyamory, just patriarchal polygyny. That’s not the law’s definition, nor the dictionary’s… and probably not the public’s, either. But suppose “polygamy” does exclude the thousands of modern polyamorists. Then why aren’t Muslims the “face of polygamy”?
Because Muslims aren’t dramatic enough. Their religion may be unpopular. Their polygynists may stand accused of abuses. But everybody knows polygynists are a small minority of Muslims, and they don’t stand out. They’re not all in one place. They’re not as photogenic as Bountiful. Nor are they generally thought as extreme. Not so many of their ex-wives are writing books. And, hey, they’re just not exotic. In the big cities, we see headscarves every day, but prairie dresses?
Anti-polygamy activists have done a great job of choosing their message… and a great job of convincing the public that Bountiful is the model of “polygamy”… whatever they mean by that word.
The problem is that it just isn’t true.
[Update 2010-Dec-14, further revised 2011-Nov-21]
Perhaps I should have been more careful with the language in this post, because I was told that people were treating these numbers as more than they’re meant to be… and then getting annoyed about the methodology.
The point is that the number of egalitarian, conjugal polyamorous families in Canada is:
- Vastly greater than the number of fundamentalist Mormon polygynous families. That’s not based on estimates or guesses; again, our survey identified three times the number that Bountiful has.
- Very probably considerably more than the total of patriarchal polygynous families in Canada.
For Canada, with smaller polygynous groups like fundamentalist Mormons, you can talk about “dozens of families”. With Muslims, “hundreds” is reasonable. With egalitarian polyamorists, you can say “thousands”. “Many hundreds” if you want to be very conservative.
The estimates are designed to explore the plausibility of those propositions. They have limited usefulness outside that context. And many have more significant digits than the data support.
We especially got a lot of questions about the high estimate of 17,000 polyamorous families (or 550,000 individual polyamorists). That’s meant to be an upper bound on an order of magnitude. It’s almost certainly too high. As many pointed out, it’s based on multiplying and dividing a whole chain of uncertain numbers, and chances for sampling errors abound. Oddly enough, few people mentioned the completely guessed numbers in that chain; the questions were about more subtle sampling and error multiplication issues.
The low estimate of 1120 polyamorous families got less attention, even though it’s also based on two conjectural factors, and it’s very probably too low.
The numbers of patriarchal polygynists are also getting few questions, even though they’re based on loose guesses from unknown parties. Those numbers are at least as uncertain as the egalitarian polyamorist numbers, and even if we had an exact count of polyamorists, their uncertainty would limit what we could say about relative magnitudes.
“Polygamous” groups are hard to count, being outlaws and all, but we can get some vague idea. Not good enough to order pizza for everybody, but perhaps good enough to show who’s most numerous.
We welcome any improvements or corrections to any of these numbers, but, please, only if you actually have better data or methods than we have.
Bountiful is easy to count, because it’s so small, so concentrated, and under such a microscope.
According to their court filings (as of early 2011), the FLDS side of Bountiful has a total population of 550. Of those, 55 are in polygamous marriages, in a total of 15 families.
The other side of Bountiful, the “Blackmore faction”, hasn’t given any numbers, so we’ll have to estimate.
We’ve seen the population of Bountiful as a whole set at 1200. That would mean 550 on the FLDS side and 650 on the Blackmore side.
Until a few years ago, the two were one united group, and they didn’t split over polygamy. It seems safe to assume they’re reasonably similar in that way. If the rate of polygyny in the Blackmore side is the same as in the FLDS side, then among the 1200 total people in Bountiful, we can confidently estimate close to 120 people in close to 33 families.
Modern, egalitarian polyamory is a much more difficult place to get a credible estimate, and conjugal polyamory is harder still. Polyamorists are scattered and diverse, mixed in with the larger community, and many have other labels they may find as important as polyamory.
We want to be the first to admit that our numbers are extremely rough. After all, our high and low estimates differ by a factor of 15 or more.
Nonetheless, we think we can say something interesting.
The CPAA survey identified 112 conjugal families and 365 spouses. Those aren’t necessarily lifelong “marriages”, but they’re close enough to be banned by Section 293 if you read it in the obvious way. They all said they believed women had the same rights as men to multiple partners.
We know that such a survey is lucky to get 20 percent response. It seems fair to set an absolute lower bound of 560 conjugal families who would view themselves as polyamorous.
The number of people who practice secular polyamorous relationships, or follow the values associated with them, is bound to be larger than the number of people who consider themselves polyamorous; many people have never even heard the word “polyamory”. Some have estimated that there might be ten times as many “non-identified” polyamorists as “identified” ones… but that seems high. Let’s take a more conservative factor of two.
That gives us 1120 families… but that number is based on two big guesses, albeit very conservative ones.
We can try to estimate the number of polyamorous people, and then how many of those people are in conjugal relationships.
The following method of counting polyamorous people is from our friend Alan at Poly in the Media, and the references are there.
“There are quite a few studies in the US indicating that about 40% of bisexuals are polyamorous in some sense, when they are asked about their relationships or preferred relationship style. There are also indicators that about 40% of self-identified polys call themselves bi. This would mean the total number of polys is about the same as the total number of bisexuals — who are supposedly 2.3% of the US population age 18-44 (though a larger percent answered “other” rather than either heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual).”
The 2.3 percent bisexuals figure is from a large US government survey. By the way, that the survey simply didn’t measure people over the age of 44, which is why Alan says “18-44”.
Other estimates around the Web seem to be pretty similar. The 2006 census counted about 24 million [original artical erroneously said 2.4 million] Canadians over the age of 19. If we assume Americans and Canadians are somewhat similar and 2.3 percent polyamorous, that means about 550,000 polyamorous adult Canadians. Eek.
In 2001, Loving More magazine (a US magazine dedicated to polyamory) surveyed 1010 of its readers. 624 of them said they were in some kind of polyamorous relationship. The released results don’t directly show how many of those relationships were conjugal, although it appears the raw data would let you determine that fairly well. Respondents listed their partners, and the released results show the number of people saying that each numbered partner lived with them. Those numbers suggest that about 15 percent of the respondents had multiple live-in conjugal partners.
We’d expect Loving More readers to be more committed to the idea of polyamory than the average person who casually adopts the label “polyamorous”. So let’s arbitrarily reduce that 15 percent, and say that 10 percent of the people who self-identify as polyamorous are in multi-partner conjugal relationships.
Applying that to the number of polyamorous people we got in the first part, we get 55,000 people in polyamorous conjugal relationships. Our general experience says that most such relationships are triads or “vees”; they involve 3 people. The CPAA survey numbers give about 3.26 people per relationship, which agrees with this intuition. So we divide 55,000 by 3.25 to get about 16,850 polyamorous conjugal relationships in Canada.
We’re not experts on Islam in Canada, and we have no “feel” for it, so we’ll rely on others.
Aly Hindi, a pro-polygamy imam in Toronto, has said that he believes that there are “more than 200” polygynous Muslim families in the greater Toronto area (older versions of this post used a less precise “several hundred” from the same source). Estimates are thin enough on the ground that even studies commissioned by the Government have quoted that Hindi’s numbers.
The greater Toronto area apparently has about 255,000 Muslims, and
Canada as a whole has about 600,000. If the rate is similar among all
Canadian Muslims, and if “more than 200” means 250, we can expect
roughly 600 (588) families in Canada.
This doesn’t approach our lower estimate of 1120 conjugal polyamorous families in Canada.
Principle Voices estimates that there are 15000 “independent” Mormon-derived polygynists in the United States. These aren’t necessarily people who practice polygyny, but at least they’re people who believe in it.
These people are NOT part of the “regular” LDS church, which would excommunicate any it caught actually practicing polygyny. Perhaps, though, we can guess that they’re about the same percentage of “Mormonism” in Canada as in the US. According to adherents.com, there are about 4.9 million “regular” LDS members in the US, and 151,000 in Canada.
Perhaps we can also guess that they actually practice polygyny at about the same rate as the Bountiful group.
If those guesses are right, there are about 13 families in Canada, containing about 46 people. Even if we’re off by a factor of 10, they’re still only about as numerous as Bountiful, and vastly less so than egalitarian polyamorists or Muslims.
Nancy Mereska over at Stop Polygamy In Canada assures us that “Asian” polygynists are common in Minnesota. Some Google searching indicates that the people in question are mostly Hmong.
There are apparently about 42,000 Hmong people living in Minnesota. Somebody whose credibility we don’t know estimates that there are 270 to 450 polygamous families among them.
The Hmong population of Canada is apparently about 600 people. We can expect maybe 5 polygynous families. Give or take.
Stop Polygamy also warns us of “African” polygynists, but doesn’t say who they are. We assume they’re mostly animists or practitioners of other traditional religions, since otherwise Stop would presumably count them as Muslims.
How ever many of these people there may be, they don’t seem to have generated much of a demographic trail on the Web. If anybody has any information about them, we’d like to hear it.
In the meantime, pending some actual information, we’re guessing maybe 50 families, similar to other groups that don’t seem to be big enough to generate much press or study. We freely admit that’s a wild guess.
There’s apparently a Christian Polygamy movement. Stop again tells us that they’re in some New England states. They seem to have some Web sites, mostly pretty low-traffic. We don’t know how to count them.
We can say that Google returns 4,490 hits for “Christian polygamy”, (and 3,530 for “Jewish polygamy”, for whatever that’s worth). That’s versus 377,000 for “polyamory”. Make of that what you will, but for now we’re content to assume these people do not outnumber either polyamorists or Muslim polygynists.