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Why Is Polygyny More Prevalent in Western Africa? An African Slave Trade Perspective

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  • John T. Dalton
  • Tin Cheuk Leung

Abstract

Polygyny rates are higher in western Africa than in eastern Africa. The African slave trades help explain this difference. More male slaves were exported in the transatlantic slave trades from western Africa, while more female slaves were exported in the Indian Ocean slave trades from eastern Africa. The slave trades led to prolonged periods of abnormal sex ratios, which affected the rates of polygyny across Africa. In order to assess these claims, we present evidence from a variety of sources. We find that the transatlantic slave trades have a positive correlation with historical levels of polygyny across African ethnic groups. We also construct an ethnic group level data set linking current rates of polygyny with historical trade flow data from the transatlantic and Indian Ocean slave trades. We find that the transatlantic slave trades cause polygyny at the ethnic group level, while the Indian Ocean slave trades do not. We provide cross-country evidence corroborating our findings.

Suggested Citation

  • John T. Dalton & Tin Cheuk Leung, 2014. "Why Is Polygyny More Prevalent in Western Africa? An African Slave Trade Perspective," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 62(4), pages 599-632.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:ecdecc:doi:10.1086/676531
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    Cited by:

    1. Graziella Bertocchi & Arcangelo Dimico, 2015. "The Long-Term Determinants of Female HIV Infection in Africa: The Slave Trade, Polygyny, and Sexual Behavior," Center for Economic Research (RECent) 112, University of Modena and Reggio E., Dept. of Economics "Marco Biagi".
    2. Graziella Bertocchi, 2016. "The legacies of slavery in and out of Africa," IZA Journal of Migration and Development, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 5(1), pages 1-19, December.
    3. Boxell, Levi, 2016. "A Drought-Induced African Slave Trade?," MPRA Paper 69853, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Fenske, James & Kala, Namrata, 2017. "1807: Economic shocks, conflict and the slave trade," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 126(C), pages 66-76.
    5. Boris Gershman, 2016. "Long-Run Development and the New Cultural Economics," Working Papers 2016-06, American University, Department of Economics.
    6. Nathan Nunn, 2012. "Culture and the Historical Process," NBER Working Papers 17869, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Kudo, Yuya, 2014. "Religion and polygamy : evidence from the livingstonia mission in Malawi," IDE Discussion Papers 477, Institute of Developing Economies, Japan External Trade Organization(JETRO).
    8. Whatley, Warren C., 2018. "The gun-slave hypothesis and the 18th century British slave trade," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 67(C), pages 80-104.
    9. 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.
    10. Nunn, Nathan, 2014. "Historical Development," Handbook of Economic Growth,in: Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 7, pages 347-402 Elsevier.
    11. Barr, Abigail & Dekker, Marleen & Janssens, Wendy & Kebede, Bereket & Kramer, Berber, 2017. "Cooperation in polygynous households," IFPRI discussion papers 1625, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    12. Lépine, Aurélia & Strobl, Eric, 2013. "The Effect of Women’s Bargaining Power on Child Nutrition in Rural Senegal," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 17-30.
    13. Fenske, James & Kala, Namrata, 2012. "Climate, ecosystem resilience and the slave trade," MPRA Paper 38398, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    14. Fenske, James, 2015. "African polygamy: Past and present," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 58-73.
    15. Graziella Bertocchi, 2016. "The Legacies of Slavery in and out of Africa," Department of Economics 0096, University of Modena and Reggio E., Faculty of Economics "Marco Biagi".
    16. Fenske, James, 2015. "African polygamy: Past and present," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 58-73.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • O55 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Africa
    • F14 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Empirical Studies of Trade
    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • N17 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Africa; Oceania

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