Is polygamy weakening? Diversity and trends in Africa during the past 50 years

Véronique Hertrich, Institut National d'Études Démographiques (INED)

Polygamy is a strong bedrock of African families: its extinction was predicted in the 60s but, until the 90s, signs of decline are rare. However changes in nuptiality patterns (increase in femage age at first marriage, decline in age gap between spouses) and economic constraints are challenging the maintenance of polygamy. The paper describes polygamy trends over the past 5 decades using the available national data for all African countries (about 250 census and national surveys). Trends and regional differences are analysed in reference with first marriage patterns and socio-economic indicators. The highest levels of polygamy are observed in Western Africa, but trends vary according the country. Polygamy is decreasing since the nineties in Western Coast countries, in rural and urban areas while it is stable in Sahelian countries. In Western Africa, trends in polygamy and socio-economic indicators are correlated: polygamy decreased where the economic recession was the highest.

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Presented in Session 64: Developmental thinking about families