Chance of a male having marriage & children through the ages

I got into a debate with a friend tonight and I offhandedly mentioned that now is one of the relatively few times in modern history that almost every male stands a reasonable chance of attracting a spouse and having children if they so desired. In olden times, rulers and aristocracy would have large harems which would reduce the pool of available women for the rest of the people. Ordinary males had to make do with prostitutes.

Is this accurate or am I mistaken? What were the proportions of men forming a long term pairing with one or multiple woman and having the potential for children in different times and places?

Exactly how large do you think the harems were? They would have to be huge, to make a sizable effect in the general population.

I think a more relevant factor would be life expectancy of men vs. women, modified by factors such as war and childbirth.

As panache45 said, you’re way overestimating the incidence of polygamy.

No such arrangements would be allowed in Europe in the Christian era, and by extension, in North or South America.

True, but men were allowed to have mistresses. Of course it’s unlikely any man would have enough mistresses to rival the harems that existed in Asia.

OK, according to legend, Solomon had 300 wives and 700 porcupines (sorry, couldn’t resist). So that’s 1000 women taken out of general availability, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a harem that was larger. His realm, if I’m remembering correctly, was traditionally said to have consisted of 12,000 people from each of the 12 tribes of Israel, for a total of 144,000. Half of those would be women, so 1 woman in 72 would have been a member of Solomon’s harem. Which means that among the non-kingly population, 71 men out of 72 would have a fair shot at a wife, with only one man in 72 being left out in the cold. Assuming, of course, that there were even equal numbers of both, to begin with: Men have always been more likely than women to suffer death from misadventure (hunting accidents, murder, war, feats of useless bravado, etc.), so maybe the 1 man in 72 who didn’t have a wife, had a widow instead. In fact, that was one of the purposes of harems, and polygyny in general, historically: To provide for the social welfare of widows.

IIRC, men in medieval times could only marry if they had property, or a skill that made enough money to sustain a household. In rural economies, with te average farm, that meant that only the eldest son was the heir to the farm. That may seem unfair to us moderns, but it was the only way to prevent an estate being divided into unworkable tiny pieces of land.
So only the eldest son could marry and have kids. Any younger brothers were SOL, and were lucky to stay on the farm as a working hand. And such farmhands couldn’t afford to marry…

IIRC, men in medieval times could only marry if they had property, or a skill that made enough money to sustain a household. In rural economies, with the average farm, that meant that only the eldest son was the heir to the farm. That may seem unfair to us moderns, but it was the only way to prevent an estate being divided into unworkable tiny pieces of land.
So only the eldest son could marry and have kids. Any younger brothers were SOL, and were lucky to stay on the farm as a working hand. And such farmhands couldn’t afford to marry…

It wasn’t just solomon who had a harem though. All of his generals would have had smaller harems and so on down the line.

Except we know that Solomon took foreign wives and porcupines (and is criticized for that), so at least some of them wouldn’t have been part of the 144,000 Israelites.

It was never quite that simple, in that non-partible inheritance was never universal and, in any case, failure to inherit did not necessarily prevent younger sons becoming tenants elsewhere, especially if population growth in the area was static.

But it is true that whether a man could sustain a household was the key to whether they married.

It was rarely because there was a shortage of potential brides. In fact, the usual pattern for Western Europe in most periods was that a higher proportion of women never married than men. The reason for this was that women who had previously married were particularly likely to remarry and, if they were already middle-aged, they were much more likely to do so than their contemporaries who were still spinsters. Widows, particularly ones who came with portions, were the exceptions to the rule that a woman’s marriage prospects declined with age. The same was not true for men.

Well, yes, but presumably the kings of the neighboring realms whence the Wise Guy was getting his ladies were also availing themselves of the nice Jewish girls. It all evens out.

And while many other VIPs probably had multiple wives, most of them were probably in the 2-4 range, not in the thousands.