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The Mystery Of Monogamy

  • Gould, Eric D.
  • Moav, Omer
  • Simhon, Avi

This paper examines why developed countries are monogamous while rich men throughout history have tended to practice polygyny (multiple wives). Wealth inequality naturally produces multiple wives for rich men in a standard model of the marriage market. This paper argues that the sources of inequality, not just the level of inequality, determine the equilibrium degree of monogamy or polygamy. In particular, when inequality is determined more by disparities in human capital versus non-labor income (such as land, capital, corruption), the outcome is more monogamous. This explains why developed countries, where human capital is the main source of income and inequality, are monogamous while less-developed economies tend to be polygynous. The results are driven by the larger inequality in the value of women in the marriage market in modern economies. When the value of human capital increases, rich men increasingly value quality women who can help them raise quality children more efficiently. As a result, high quality women are valued much more than low quality women, which makes polygyny less affordable for rich men. In this manner, we show that male inequality generates polygyny, but female inequality reduces it. Using data from Cote d'Ivoire, we provide evidence for all the main implications of the model. In particular, we control for a man's total income and show that polygyny increases with non-labor income but decreases with labor income and education. These patterns are strong even within social groups where norms regarding polygyny are likely to be constant.

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File URL: http://purl.umn.edu/14992
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Paper provided by Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Department of Agricultural Economics and Management in its series Discussion Papers with number 14992.

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Date of creation: 2003
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Handle: RePEc:ags:huaedp:14992
Contact details of provider: Postal: Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences Hebrew University of Jerusalem, P.O. Box 12, Rehovot 76100
Phone: 08-9481230
Fax: 08-9466267
Web page: http://departments.agri.huji.ac.il/economics/indexe.html

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  1. Gary S. Becker & Kevin M. Murphy & Robert F. Tamura, 1990. "Human Capital, Fertility, and Economic Growth," NBER Working Papers 3414, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Ted Bergstrom, 1994. "On the Economics of Polygyny," Microeconomics 9410001, EconWPA.
  3. Raquel Fernandez & Richard Rogerson, 2000. "Sorting and Long-Run Inequality," NBER Working Papers 7508, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Oded Galor & Omer Moav, 2004. "From Physical to Human Capital Accumulation: Inequality and the Process of Development," GE, Growth, Math methods 0410005, EconWPA.
  5. Raquel Fernandez & Nezih Guner & John Knowles, 2001. "Love and Money: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis of Household Sorting and Inequality," NBER Working Papers 8580, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Omer Moav, 2005. "Cheap Children and the Persistence of Poverty," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 115(500), pages 88-110, 01.
  7. Nils-Petter Lagerlof, 2002. "Sex, Equality, and Growth (in that order)," GE, Growth, Math methods 0212001, EconWPA.
  8. Oded Galor & Omer Moav, 2000. "Natural Selection and the Origin of economic Growth," Working Papers 2000-18, Brown University, Department of Economics.
  9. Becker, Gary S & Lewis, H Gregg, 1973. "On the Interaction between the Quantity and Quality of Children," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(2), pages S279-88, Part II, .
  10. Ted Bergstrom, 1994. "Primogeniture, Monogamy and Reproductive Success in a Stratified Society," Meeting papers 9410001, EconWPA, revised 10 Oct 1994.
  11. Kremer, Michael, 1997. "How Much Does Sorting Increase Inequality?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(1), pages 115-39, February.
  12. Oded Galor & Omer Moav, 1998. "Ability Biased Technological Transition, Wage Inequality, and Economic Growth," Working Papers 98-14, Brown University, Department of Economics.
  13. Alesina, Alberto F & Rodrik, Dani, 1991. "Distributive Politics and Economic Growth," CEPR Discussion Papers 565, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  14. Elster, Jon, 1989. "Social Norms and Economic Theory," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 99-117, Fall.
  15. David Lam & Suzanne Duryea, 1999. "Effects of Schooling on Fertility, Labor Supply, and Investments in Children, with Evidence from Brazil," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 34(1), pages 160-192.
  16. Jacoby, Hanan G, 1995. "The Economics of Polygyny in Sub-Saharan Africa: Female Productivity and the Demand for Wives in Cote d'Ivoire," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(5), pages 938-71, October.
  17. Deininger, Klaus & Squire, Lyn, 1998. "New ways of looking at old issues: inequality and growth," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 57(2), pages 259-287.
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