Difference Between Bigamy and Polygamy

Difference Between Bigamy and Polygamy:- Marriage, a social institution as old as human civilization, comes in various forms across cultures. While the majority of societies endorse the conventional model of monogamy – a union between two individuals – there exist alternative systems that challenge this norm. Two such non-traditional forms are bigamy and polygamy.

Difference Between Bigamy and Polygamy
Difference Between Bigamy and Polygamy; Image Credit- Getty image

This guide aims to delve into the definitions, practices, and distinctions between bigamy and polygamy, shedding light on their similarities, differences, and other related marriage arrangements.

What is Bigamy?

Bigamy, a less common and often illegal form of marriage, involves an individual going through a marriage ceremony with one person while already legally married to another. This act can be intentional and consensual, unintentional due to incomplete divorce proceedings, or intentional and not entirely consensual where multiple spouses may not be aware of each other. In the United States, bigamy is widely outlawed.

What is Polygamy?

Polygamy, on the other hand, refers to a general union involving three or more individuals in marriage. Contrary to popular belief, polygamy is not exclusive to men having multiple wives; it encompasses various forms, such as polygyny (a man marrying multiple women), polyandry (a woman having multiple husbands), and group marriage (multiple individuals in a marriage-like agreement).

Polygyny and Polyandry

Polygyny, observed in societies like Mali and certain parts of South America, occurs when a man can marry multiple women simultaneously. This practice is often a response to factors like war or a birth rate imbalance.

On the other hand, polyandry, a rare practice, involves a woman having more than one husband at a time. In societies where polyandry occurs, it is often due to a shortage of women.

Group Marriage

Group marriage, another form of polygamy, involves multiple individuals entering into a marriage-like agreement. This arrangement, while rare, reflects a collective commitment between all parties.

Difference Between Bigamy and Polygamy

  1. Level of Awareness: In polygamous unions, spouses are generally aware of each other’s existence, while bigamy often involves one or both parties remaining oblivious to their partner’s other marriage.
  2. Legal Classification: Some countries recognize polygamous marriages, whereas bigamy is largely considered illegal due to the act of marrying one person while already married to another.
  3. Style of Living: Bigamists often maintain separate households for their partners, while polygamists may choose to keep all spouses in a single household.
  4. Influence of Religion: Polygamy may be culturally accepted or even backed by religious beliefs, whereas bigamy lacks cultural and religious support.

Similar Marriage Arrangements

Beyond bigamy and polygamy, other non-traditional marriage setups exist, including group marriages, open marriages, and polyamorous relationships. Group marriages involve several males and females joined together, while open marriages permit extramarital relationships with mutual consent.

Polyamorous relationships, embracing diverse forms like hierarchical poly and solo polyamory, recognize the possibility of loving multiple people simultaneously in a non-possessive manner.


In exploring the realms of bigamy and polygamy, it becomes evident that these non-traditional marriage systems offer unique perspectives on romantic partnerships. While bigamy is often viewed as illegal and lacking cultural support, polygamy can be culturally accepted and even religiously sanctioned in certain societies. Understanding the differences and similarities between these practices broadens our perspective on the diverse ways in which individuals form romantic connections.

Additionally, the exploration of other non-traditional setups like group marriages, open marriages, and polyamorous relationships further enriches our understanding of the fluid nature of human relationships.

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