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. Gary S. Becker, 1981. "A Treatise on the Family," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number beck81-1, May.
    2. 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

    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 19:29:00

    Citations

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


    Cited by:

    1. Alger, Ingela, 2021. "On the evolution of male competitiveness," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 190(C), pages 228-254.
    2. Kota Ogasawara & Mizuki Komura, 2022. "Consequences of war: Japan’s demographic transition and the marriage market," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 35(3), pages 1037-1069, July.
    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. Brishti Guha, 2010. "Patrilocal Exogamy as a Monitoring Mechanism : How Inheritance and Residence Patterns Co-evolve," Working Papers 09-2010, Singapore Management University, School of Economics.
    6. Paul Cahu & Falilou Fall & Roland Pongou, 2014. "Beauty, Polygyny, and Fertility: Theory and Evidence," Documents de travail du Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne 14078, Université Panthéon-Sorbonne (Paris 1), Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne.
    7. Fenske, James, 2015. "African polygamy: Past and present," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 58-73.

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Guillaume Allègre & Thomas Melonio & Xavier Timbeau, 2012. "Dépenses publiques d'éducation et inégalités. Une perspective de cycle de vie," Revue économique, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 63(6), pages 1055-1079.
    2. Alessandro Cigno, 2007. "A Theoretical Analysis of the Effects of Legislation on Marriage, Fertility, Domestic Division of Labour, and the Education of Children," CESifo Working Paper Series 2143, CESifo.
    3. Maristella Botticini & Aloysius Siow, 2003. "Why Dowries?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(4), pages 1385-1398, September.
    4. Lamia Kandil & Hélène Perivier, 2017. "La division sexuée du travail dans les couples selon le statut marital en France - une étude à partir des enquêtes emploi du temps de 1985-1986, 1998-1999, et 2009-2010," Documents de Travail de l'OFCE 2017-03, Observatoire Francais des Conjonctures Economiques (OFCE).
    5. Robert Kaestner, 1995. "The Effects of Cocaine and Marijuana Use on Marriage and Marital Stability," NBER Working Papers 5038, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Yan Yu, 2015. "The Male Breadwinner/Female Homemaker Model and Perceived Marital Stability: A Comparison of Chinese Wives in the United States and Urban China," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 36(1), pages 34-47, March.
    7. Kota Ogasawara & Mizuki Komura, 2022. "Consequences of war: Japan’s demographic transition and the marriage market," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 35(3), pages 1037-1069, July.
    8. Allan Puur & Leen Rahnu & Liili Abuladze & Luule Sakkeus & Sergei Zakharov, 2017. "Childbearing among first- and second-generation Russians in Estonia against the background of the sending and host countries," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 36(41), pages 1209-1254.
    9. Sunnee Billingsley, 2010. "The Post-Communist Fertility Puzzle," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 29(2), pages 193-231, April.
    10. Marcén, Miriam & Molina, José Alberto & Morales, Marina, 2018. "The effect of culture on the fertility decisions of immigrant women in the United States," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 15-28.
    11. Peggy Barlett & Linda Lobao & Katherine Meyer, 1999. "Diversity in attitudes toward farming and patterns of work among farm women: A regional comparison," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 16(4), pages 343-354, December.
    12. Michael E. Martell & Peyton Nash, 2020. "For Love and Money? Earnings and Marriage Among Same-Sex Couples," Journal of Labor Research, Springer, vol. 41(3), pages 260-294, September.
    13. William S. Schulze & Michael H. Lubatkin & Richard N. Dino, 2002. "Altruism, agency, and the competitiveness of family firms," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 23(4-5), pages 247-259.
    14. Luis Garicano & Thomas N. Hubbard, 2016. "The Returns to Knowledge Hierarchies," The Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 32(4), pages 653-684.
    15. Macher, Jeffrey T & Mayo, John W & Ukhaneva, Olga & Woroch, Glenn A, 2017. "From universal service to universal connectivity," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt7jp5v5nz, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
    16. Ravi Prakash & Abhishek Singh, 2014. "Who Marries Whom? Changing Mate Selection Preferences in Urban India and Emerging Implications on Social Institutions," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 33(2), pages 205-227, April.
    17. Jennifer Roberts & Karl Taylor, 2017. "Intra-household commuting choices and local labour markets," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(3), pages 734-757.
    18. Delia Furtado, 2012. "Human Capital And Interethnic Marriage Decisions," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 50(1), pages 82-93, January.
    19. Corno, Lucia & Voena, Alessandra, 2023. "Child marriage as informal insurance: Empirical evidence and policy simulations," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 162(C).
    20. Leanne Roncolato & Alex Roomets, 2020. "Who will change the “baby?” Examining the power of gender in an experimental setting," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 18(3), pages 823-852, September.

    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.

    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 bibliographic 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.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: s. malkani (email available below). General contact details of provider: https://edirc.repec.org/data/elucluk.html .

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

    IDEAS is a RePEc service. RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.