For modern Western societies with a regime of monogamy, it has recently been demonstrated that the socioeconomic status of men is positively associated with being or having been married. This study aims to compare marriage patterns (if a person has been married at least once) for cultures with a tradition of monogamy and polygyny. As no worldwide data on polygyny exist, religion was used as a proxy for monogamy (Christians) vs polygyny (Muslims). The analyses were based on 2000–2011 census data from 39 countries worldwide for 52,339,594 men and women, controlling for sex, sex ratio, age, education, migration within the last 5 years and employment. Overall, a higher proportion of Muslims were married compared with Christians, but the difference in the fraction of married men compared with married women at a certain age (the ‘marriage gap’) was much more pronounced in Muslims than in Christians, i.e. compared with Christians, a substantially higher proportion of Muslim women than men were married up to the age of approximately 31 years. As expected for a tradition of polygyny, the results indicate that the socioeconomic threshold for entering marriage is higher for Muslim than Christian men, and Muslim women in particular face a negative effect of socioeconomic status on the probability of ever being married. The large ‘marriage gap’ at a certain age in Muslim societies leads to high numbers of married women and unmarried young men, and may put such polygenic societies under pressure.