From Bachelor Threat to Fraternal Security: Male Associations and Modular Organization in Human Societies

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37 Scopus citations


Humans live in modular societies with a minimum of two levels of organization, the conjugal family and the local community. Yet any human community is likely to contain at least one other social unit whose evolutionary significance has not always been recognized: a same-sex association, such as a men's "club" or "brotherhood." The purpose of this article is to explore the role of all-male associations in relation to the conjugal families that are often taken to be the main constituents of human groups. What has been called bachelor threat in other mammalian species is a major problem in human societies, which may include follower males as well as all-male units. Yet tensions between married men and bachelors are often eclipsed by the need for warriors to defend the local community. The ethnographic record includes many cases in which fraternal security takes precedence over conjugal bonds, resulting in the physical segregation of the sexes, including husbands and wives. At the extreme, a husband usually sleeps at a men's house while making regular visits to his conjugal family. Though this pattern is classically associated with tribal Amazonia and Melanesia, it is seen here as part of a continuum of variation in small-scale societies worldwide. These societies reflect a series of historical compromises, it is argued, between bachelors and elders, on the one hand, and between men's associations and conjugal families, on the other.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1194-1214
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Primatology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2012


  • Bachelors
  • Human evolution
  • Men's house
  • Pair bonding
  • War

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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