IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/els/esrcls/042.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

On the Economics of Polygyny

Author

Listed:
  • 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 brides 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 brides male kin (typically brothers) in order that they can themselves take a wife.” Dowry, in contrast to bridewealth, is a payment from the brides 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, Kupers book (p. 28 ) contains a beautifully explicit description of this pattern of property rights in traditional societies of southern Africa.

Suggested Citation

  • Theodore C. Bergstrom, "undated". "On the Economics of Polygyny," ELSE working papers 042, ESRC Centre on Economics Learning and Social Evolution.
  • Handle: RePEc:els:esrcls:042
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    To our knowledge, this item is not available for download. To find whether it is available, there are three options:
    1. Check below 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.

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Joseph Chamie & Samar Nsuly, 1981. "Sex differences in remarriage and spouse selection," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 18(3), pages 335-348, August.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as


    Cited by:

    1. Nils-Petter Lagerlof, 2002. "Sex, Equality, and Growth (in that order)," GE, Growth, Math methods 0212001, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. 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).
    3. Eric D. Gould & Omer Moav & Avi Simhon, 2008. "The Mystery of Monogamy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(1), pages 333-357, March.
    4. Ran Abramitzky & Adeline Delavande & Luis Vasconcelos, 2011. "Marrying Up: The Role of Sex Ratio in Assortative Matching," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 3(3), pages 124-157, July.
    5. Fenske, James, 2015. "African polygamy: Past and present," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 58-73.
    6. Cahu, Paul & Fall, Falilou & Pongou, Roland, 2014. "Beauty, Polygyny, and Fertility: Theory and Evidence," MPRA Paper 59009, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Aloysius Siow, 1998. "Differential Fecundity, Markets, and Gender Roles," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(2), pages 334-354, April.
    8. Han, Peter & Foltz, Jeremy, 2015. "Polygyny: Cooperation vs. Competition among Wives on Child Health," 2015 AAEA & WAEA Joint Annual Meeting, July 26-28, San Francisco, California 205722, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    9. Theodore C. Bergstrom, 1996. "Economics in a Family Way," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(4), pages 1903-1934, December.
    10. Maury Granger & Gregory Price, 2009. "Does religion constrain the risky sex behaviour associated with HIV/AIDS?," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 41(6), pages 791-802.
    11. 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.
    12. 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.
    13. Linguère Mously Mbaye & Natascha Wagner, 2017. "Bride Price and Fertility Decisions: Evidence from Rural Senegal," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 53(6), pages 891-910, June.
    14. Sadettin Citci, 2014. "The rise of monogamy," SERIEs: Journal of the Spanish Economic Association, Springer;Spanish Economic Association, vol. 5(4), pages 377-397, November.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D1 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior
    • D2 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations
    • D3 - Microeconomics - - Distribution
    • D4 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. 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 email address. General contact details of provider: http://edirc.repec.org/data/elucluk.html .

    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 CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc 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 RePEc Author Service 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.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.