Polygamous Marriages in the Rural Sahel: Persistence and Change

Nathalie K. Mondain, Université de Montréal

Despite longstanding predictions of its demise, polygamy remains common in sub-Saharan Africa. Women's age at first union is also rising across the region, while men's age is largely stable, causing the spousal age gap to fall. Insofar as polygamous marriages are characterized by large age gaps, this trend is surprising. Most studies of evolving marriage patterns in the region deal with urban areas; studies of changes in first marriages, polygamy and related socioeconomic variables in rural areas are rare. Using longitudinal data collected between 1983-99, and survey and qualitative data collected in 1999, this study examines changes in polygamous marriages in Niakhar (rural Senegal). Questions include: Is the prevalence of marriages with 3+ wives falling relative to bigamous unions, which could explain the reduced spousal age gap? For both men and women, what is the perceived value of polygamous versus monogamous unions, and how does this appear to be evolving?

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Presented in Poster Session 2: Union Formation and Dissolution and Parents' Living Arrangements