Concubine vs Mistress: Difference and Comparison

Key Takeaways

  1. Definition of Roles: A concubine was a woman in ancient times who had lower social status than a wife but higher status than a mistress. A mistress is a woman who has an ongoing extramarital sexual relationship with a man.
  2. Legal Status: Concubines had some legal rights and protections in ancient societies, whereas mistresses have no legal status as the man is married to someone else.
  3. Social Acceptance: Having concubines was an accepted practice in many ancient cultures, but taking a mistress is generally socially unacceptable in modern society, though it still occurs. The role of mistress is considered shameful and secretive.

What is Concubine?

A concubine is a woman who is considered to be a secondary wife to a man. This man holds a socially higher rank. The reason behind the man not marrying the woman can be anything.  


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A concubine and a man often are in a polygamous relationship. A concubine is often subjected to fulfill domestic activities as well. The history of concubines goes back ages, as it is not a recent phenomenon. 

The concubine has a contract with the man and therefore holds legal rights. However, in some cultures, the concubines are stigmatized. The children of this relationship also get legal rights, but they may differ from the children of a formal marriage. 

One man can have multiple concubines, and there are no fixed arrangements. Even the rights and social status of a concubine is also not fixed. They differ in centuries and cultures.

What is Mistress?

A mistress is a woman who has a romantic relationship with an already-married man. This relationship is an outcome of mutual attraction. So this is often an extramarital affair.

A mistress is often called the ‘other woman’. A mistress does not retain any legal rights within the relationship. A wife gets several rights and social recognition, but a mistress is not entitled to any of them. As a result, the children born out of this relationship are considered illegitimate.

Similar to the situation of a concubine, the agreement between the mistress and the man is not fixed. It is based on personal intentions. The mistress may or may not receive financial support from her partner.

Extramarital relationships can have complex emotions and ethics attached to them, and therefore a lot of stigma comes with it. A mistress may get the status of a wife if the man gets divorced from the first marriage and formally marry the mistress.

Difference Between Concubine and Mistress

  1. Concubine and mistress are often used as interchangeable terms, but that is incorrect. These are two different terms that signify two different relationships. A concubine is a woman who always has a lower status than a man. They often exercise polygamous relationships. On the other hand, a mistress is a woman who has a non-marital or extramarital relationship with a man.
  2. A concubine gets a formal arrangement or contract agreement. According to history, some concubines are socially accepted but do not get a wife’s rank. Mistresses, on the other hand, have a hidden identity and are not accepted socially.
  3. As the concubines are socially accepted, their children have legal rights, whereas the children of a mistress are considered to be illegitimate. 
  4. Concubines have lower social ranks than their husbands, but a mistress can be from any social rank.
  5. While concubines are considered secondary wives, mistresses are deemed to be the ‘other woman’ in a man’s life.

Comparison Between Concubine and Mistress

Parameter of ComparisonConcubineMistress
DefinitionA concubine is a woman with a polygamous relationship with a man with a higher social rank than her.A mistress is a woman in a non-marital relationship with a man.
RankA concubine is considered to be a secondary wife.A mistress is an extramarital affair. 
Social StatusShe has a lower social status compared to a wife.She may or may not hold a lower social status than a wife.
Historical evidence Concubines were historically accepted.Mistresses were always subjected to a hidden identity. 
ChildrenChildren born to a concubine are known to have legal rights.Children born to a mistress are recognized as illegitimate.
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