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How marrying your cousin corrupts society


November 5, 2019 - 9:00am

A paper in October’s Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization reports a strong correlation across societies between frequency of ‘in-marriage’ — that is, cousin marriage — and corruption in that society.

The paper argues that cousin marriage “generates fractionalization because it yields relatively closed groups of related individuals and thereby encourages favoritism and corruption.” That is, cousin marriage incentivises corruption because loyalty is more likely to be to a large, interconnected network of blood relations than to any more abstract conception of society.

By contrast:

Out-marriage creates a relatively open society with increased interaction between non-relatives and strangers, thereby encouraging impartiality.
- Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization

The study reports “a robust association between in-marriage practices and corruption both across countries and within countries”.

It also looked at the Catholic Church’s family policies, and concluded that Catholicism could have a causal relationship with greater prevalence of out-marriage.

If this study is accurate, it bears out the thesis of Tom Holland’s recent book Dominion: that Christianity has been profoundly constitutive of aspects of our society that we have come to take so for granted we think of them as universals. If this study is correct, this includes relatively low public sector corruption.

It also points to a curious aversion to holistic thinking in our contemporary ‘deconstructive’ phase of social liberalism. This worldview sees social and sexual norms as arbitrary impositions inflicted on us by an oppressive, white, almost certainly male and heterosexual patriarchy in service of its own interests. All such norms, it argues, should be deconstructed in pursuit of a state of absolute freedom that will – one assumes – deliver the good life. But this approach may turn out to be somewhat like pulling a thread on a jumper only for the sleeve to fall off.

GK Chesterton wrote “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up”. What if it turns out that desirable features of our society such as our (by global standards) even-handed police, judiciary and other organs of state, were side effects of marriage practices whose governing mores are now moribund? By the time the evidence is incontrovertible it will be too late to do anything about it.

Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.


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