Advanced Search
MyIDEAS: Login

On the Economics of Polygyny

Contents:

Author Info

  • Theodore C. Bergstrom

Abstract

Gary Becker devotes a chapter of his Treatise on the Family to ��Polygamy and Monogamy in marriage markets. The inclusion of polygamy in his analysis is more than an intriguing curiosum. Although overt polygamy is rare in our own society, it is a very common mode of family organization around the world. Of 1170 societies recorded in Murdock�s Ethnographic Atlas, polygyny (some men having more than one wife) is prevalent in 850. (Hartung, 1982). Moreover, our own society is far from completely monogamous. About 1/4 of all children born in the United States in 1990 were born to unmarried mothers who were not cohabiting with the fathers.1 Even though simultaneous marriages to multiple partners are not officially recognized, divorce and remarriage leads to a common pattern of ��serial polygamy��, in which males remarry more frequently than females and are more likely than females to have children by more than one spouse.2 This paper concerns the economics of polygynous societies with well-functioning markets for marriage partners. The institutions that we model appear to be particularly close to those found in the polygynous societies of Africa where polygyny is the norm. In the countries of the Sahel region of Africa, the percentage of women living in polygynous households ranges from 45% to 55%. In West Africa, Central Africa, and East Africa, these percentages are mostly in the range from 25% to 35%. In Southern Africa, polygyny is less common, with just under 10% of women living in polygynous households. (Lesthaege (1986)). Descriptions of these institutions can be found in Goody (1973) and in Kuper (1982). Most polygynous societies have positive prices for brides.3 In the polygynous societies of Africa, these prices, which anthropologists call ��bridewealth��, are typically paid to the bride�s male relatives rather than to the bride. According to Jack Goody (1973, p. 5), ��Bridewealth is not to be consumed in the course of the celebration, nor is it handed to the wife, it is given to the bride�s male kin (typically brothers) in order that they can themselves take a wife.�� Dowry, in contrast to bridewealth, is a payment from the bride�s relatives. But according to Goody, dowry is not the ��reverse�� of bride wealth. Dowry typically goes directly to the newly married couple rather than to the relatives of the groom, constituting as Goody suggests, ��a type of pre-mortem inheritance to the bride.�� Goody distinguishes bridewealth from ��indirect dowry.�� , which is a payment from the groom�s family to the newlywed couple rather than to the bride�s male relatives. Goody reports that in polygynous African societies, payments at the time of marriage normally take the form of bridewealth rather than of indirect dowry. In human societies, males who inherit economic wealth from parents or other relatives can increase their reproductive success substantially by acquiring additional wives, mistresses, or concubines. For females, on the other hand, an extra husband adds little to her lifetime fertility. Once a female has achieved moderate prosperity, additional wealth does little to relax the biological constraints on the number of offspring she can have. Therefore, we expect that in an an economy with well-functioning markets for marital partners, where parents distribute inheritance and the the bridewealth of their daughters in such a way as to maximize the number of their surviving grandchildren, we would expect there to be polygyny rather than polyandry and we would expect brides to command a positive price. We would further expect to see parents leave their inheritances (including the bridewealth received for their daughters predominantly to their sons rather than to their daughters. According to Goody (1973) and Kuper (1981), most of the polygynous societies of Africa fit this description. In a polygynous society, one may want to distinguish the rights and obligations of full siblings from those of half-siblings who share the same father but have different mothers. In particular, it is useful to know whether males typically share the bridewealth of half-sisters or whether bridewealth is preferentially passed to full siblings. While the norm may differ across societies, Kuper�s book (p. 28 ) contains a beautifully explicit description of this pattern of property rights in traditional societies of southern Africa.

Download Info

To our knowledge, this item is not available for download. To find whether it is available, there are three options:
1. Check below under "Related research" whether another version of this item is available online.
2. Check on the provider's web page whether it is in fact available.
3. Perform a search for a similarly titled item that would be available.

Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by ESRC Centre on Economics Learning and Social Evolution in its series ELSE working papers with number 042.

as in new window
Length:
Date of creation:
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:els:esrcls:042

Contact details of provider:
Postal: Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT
Email:
Web page: http://else.econ.ucl.ac.uk/
More information through EDIRC

Related research

Keywords:

Other versions of this item:

Find related papers by JEL classification:

References

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
as in new window
  1. Joseph Chamie & Samar Nsuly, 1981. "Sex differences in remarriage and spouse selection," Demography, Springer, vol. 18(3), pages 335-348, August.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

Citations

Blog mentions

As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
  1. Marry our daughter
    by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2008-11-19 13:29:00
Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
as in new window

Cited by:
  1. Edlund, Lena & Ku, Hyejin, 2011. "The African Slave Trade and the Curious Case of General Polygyny," MPRA Paper 52735, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 16 Dec 2013.
  2. James Fenske, 2012. "African Polygamy: Past and Present," Economics Series Working Papers WPS/2012-20, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  3. Mbaye, Linguère Mously & Wagner, Natascha, 2013. "Bride Price and Fertility Decisions: Evidence from Rural Senegal," IZA Discussion Papers 7770, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Ran Abramitzky & Adeline Delavande & Luís Vasconcelos, 2010. "Marrying Up: The Role of Sex Ratio in Assortative Matching," Research Working Papers 36, MICROCON - A Micro Level Analysis of Violent Conflict.
  5. Nils-Petter Lagerlof, 2002. "Sex, Equality, and Growth (in that order)," GE, Growth, Math methods 0212001, EconWPA.
  6. Gillian Hamilton & Aloysius Siow, 1999. "Marriage and Fertility in a Catholic Society: Eighteenth-Century Quebec," Working Papers siow-99-01, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
  7. Bergstrom, T., 1995. "Economics of a Family Way," Papers 95-07, Michigan - Center for Research on Economic & Social Theory.
  8. Aloysius Siow, 1998. "Differential Fecundity, Markets, and Gender Roles," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(2), pages 334-354, April.
  9. Gould, Eric D. & Moav, Omer & Simhon, Avi, 2003. "The Mystery Of Monogamy," Discussion Papers 14992, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Department of Agricultural Economics and Management.
  10. Ted Bergstrom, 1995. "Economic in a Family Way," Papers _028, University of Michigan, Department of Economics.

Lists

This item is featured on the following reading lists or Wikipedia pages:
  1. Economic Logic blog

Statistics

Access and download statistics

Corrections

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:els:esrcls:042. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (s. malkani) The email address of this maintainer does not seem to be valid anymore. Please ask s. malkani to update the entry or send us the correct address.

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.