The Demography of Polygyny in Sub-Saharan Africa: Trends, Compositional Effects, and Implications for Inequality

Luca Maria Pesando , Population Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania
Julia Behrman, Northwestern University
Hans-Peter Kohler, University of Pennsylvania

This paper makes several contributions to the literature on family change in Africa, with attention to the intersection between demography and inequality. First, we use micro-data from 125 Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) across 38 sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries to provide updated descriptive estimates of how the prevalence of polygyny has changed over time and across contexts. In so doing, we reflect upon demographic transformations that have affected SSA countries, thus shifting the age distribution of the population and impacting what we label the “demographic sustainability of polygyny.” Next, we test whether there is evidence that polygyny has decreased with modernization processes by exploring the association between polygyny and wealth at both national and sub-national levels. Finally, we assess the implications of changes in the socio-economic composition of polygynous families for sub-national wealth inequalities between households. Our preliminary results show a close connection between polygyny estimates from DHS and the demographic sustainability of the phenomenon.

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 Presented in Session 155. Gender and Inequality in Low- and Middle-Income Countries