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African polygamy: past and present

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Polygamy is common in Africa, and is blamed for negative outcomes. I use DHS data to test nine hypotheses about its prevalence and decline. First, historical inequality better predicts polygamy today than current inequality. Second, greater female involvement in agriculture reduces polygamy. Third, the slave trade predicts polygamy, but not robustly. Fourth, modern female education does not reduce polygamy. Colonial schooling does. Fifth, economic growth is weakly correlated with polygamy. Sixth and seventh, rainfall shocks and war increase polygamy, though their effects are small. Eighth, polygamy varies smoothly over borders, national bans notwithstanding. Finally, falling child mortality has reduced polygamy.

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