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Polygynous marriages fall into two types: sororal polygyny, in which the co-wives are sisters, and non-sororal, where the co-wives are not related.
Polygyny offers husbands the benefit of allowing them to have more children, may provide them with a larger number of productive workers (where workers are family), and allows them to establish politically useful ties with a greater number of kin groups.
For such reasons, senior wives sometimes work hard or contribute from their own resources to enable their husbands to accumulate the bride price for an extra wife.
Polygyny may also result from the practice of levirate marriage.
Goody says, "The reasons behind polygyny are sexual and reproductive rather than economic and productive" (199), arguing that men marry polygynously to maximize their fertility and to obtain large households containing many young dependent males.
An analysis by James Fenske (2012) found that child mortality and ecologically-related economic shocks had a significant association with rates of polygamy in subsaharan Africa, rather than female agricultural contributions (which are typically relatively small in the West African savanna and sahel, where polygyny rates are higher), finding that polygyny rates decrease significantly with child mortality rates.
The sororate resembles the levirate, in that a widower must marry the sister of his dead wife.
This provides support for the widow and her children (usually also members of the brothers' kin group) and maintains the tie between the husbands' and wives' kin groups.In many polygynous marriages the husband's wives may live in separate households Polyandry, the practice of a woman having more than one husband at the one time, is much less prevalent than polygyny and is now illegal in virtually every country in the world. If every brother married separately and had children, family land would be split into unsustainable small plots.In Europe, this outcome was avoided through the social practice of impartible inheritance, under which most siblings would be disinherited.This favours polygamous marriages in which men seek to monopolize the production of women "who are valued both as workers and as child bearers". Burton discuss and support Jack Goody's observation regarding African male farming systems in "Causes of Polygyny: Ecology, Economy, Kinship, and Warfare"Goody (1973) argues against the female contributions hypothesis.
Goody however, observes that the correlation is imperfect and varied, and also discusses more traditionally male-dominated though relatively extensive farming systems such as those that exist in much of West Africa, especially in the West African savanna, where polygyny is desired by men more for the generation of male offspring whose labor is valued. He notes Dorjahn's (1959) comparison of East and West Africa, showing higher female agricultural contributions in East Africa and higher polygyny rates in West Africa, especially the West African savanna, where one finds especially high male agricultural contributions.
Drawing on the work of Ester Boserup, Goody notes that the sexual division of labour varies between the male-dominated intensive plough-agriculture common in Eurasia and the extensive shifting horticulture found in sub-Saharan Africa.