Disease dynamics and costly punishment can foster socially imposed monogamy.
Socially imposed monogamy in humans is an evolutionary puzzle because it requires costly punishment by those who impose the norm. Moreover, most societies were-and are-polygynous; yet many larger human societies transitioned from polygyny to socially imposed monogamy beginning with the advent of agriculture and larger residential groups. We use a simulation model to explore how interactions between group size, sexually transmitted infection (STI) dynamics and social norms can explain the timing and emergence of socially imposed monogamy. Polygyny dominates when groups are too small to sustain STIs. However, in larger groups, STIs become endemic (especially in concurrent polygynist networks) and have an impact on fertility, thereby mediating multilevel selection. Punishment of polygynists improves monogamist fitness within groups by reducing their STI exposure, and between groups by enabling punishing monogamist groups to outcompete polygynists. This suggests pathways for the emergence of socially imposed monogamy, and enriches our understanding of costly punishment evolution.