The Null Device

Did beer cause monogamy?

A new theory claims that human monogamy is a direct result of the development of beer; or more precisely, firstly, that monogamy was the result of social changes that arose from the shift from a nomadic to an agricultural (and thus hierarchical and patriarchial) lifestyle, and secondly, that the main impetus to move to agriculture wasn't so much a desire to build cities or empires but to brew beer.

There are 4 comments on "Did beer cause monogamy?":

Posted by: ianw Thu Aug 12 11:39:25 2010

shall I be the first to say: isn't this 'new theory' what my brother's been banging on about for the last 15 years?

Posted by: Greg Thu Aug 12 13:17:34 2010

It's a curious blog post. They've mashed together the synopses of two different books, one of which ("Sex at Dawn") claims that human monogamy began with agriculture, the other or which ("Uncorking the Past") expands upon Robert Braidwood's rather old idea that early agriculture was motivated by the desire to brew alcohol. I'm not sure I'd bother with "Sex at Dawn" - a ton of evolutionary psychology that covers this territory better. Braidwood's idea dates from the 1950s. I cite him in my paper on agriculture because he's the first, and to my knowledge only author other than me who posits a non-nutritional primary motive for adoption of agriculture.

I updated his idea by talking about drugs other than alcohol, and then went a step further by saying that the pharmacological effects thus obtained enable the social changes that occur in societies that adopt cereal agriculture. There's a synopsis of my idea at

Posted by: J Thu Aug 19 02:32:14 2010

Greg, one question about your comment. Why do you think beer is "non-nutritional?" I don't believe they were being clever when they called it "liquid bread." The early, unfiltered beer that would have been made at that time would have a number of nutritional advantages, not least of which would be that it was safer to drink than water.

Posted by: acb Thu Aug 19 09:35:02 2010

In Australia, beer probably has close to zero nutritional value, being essentially cold lager/pale ale. (It has to primarily serve the purpose of cooling the drinker down.) Traditional English ales or stouts, however, could have been more nutritious.