African polygamy: Past and present | vox

It’s easy to ignore history but it’s a mistake to do so. Past economic and political conditions affect present circumstances, unto the fourth generation, at least, or so it seems from this bracing study on polygamy.


These results pose challenges to existing theories of polygamy. The distribution of polygamy in Africa does not fit an explanation rooted in the gender division of labour. I find no evidence that educating women in the present reduces polygamy. Further, I find that history matters. Pre-colonial inequality, the slave trade, and colonial education all predict polygamy rates in the present. I find limited evidence that African marriage markets have responded to economic growth and fluctuations. The largest elasticities that I find are in response to changes in child health. This is consistent with theories that see polygamy as a strategy for men to increase fertility, making wives and surviving births per wife substitutes.

via African polygamy: Past and present | vox.