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Productivity, Rank and Returns in Polygamy

Julia Anna Matz

IIIS Discussion Paper No. 390

Abstract

This study sheds light on the development of family structures in a polygamous context and offers an explanation for the association between outcomes of children and the status of their mothers among wives, based on observable maternal characteristics. Using a game theoretical approach I show that highly productive wives are more strongly demanded in the marriage market than less productive ones so that a selection into being the first wife with respect to productivity takes place. Furthermore, productivity is positively associated with a woman's bargained share of family income to be spent on consumption and investment, due to greater contributions to family income and larger outside options. The findings are empirically supported by a positive relationship between indicators of female productivity, women's levels of seniority among wives, and their children's educational outcomes in rural Ethiopia. The paper therefore offers a simple economic explanation for the common finding that children of first wives fare better along educational and nutritional dimensions than children of later wives. The findings indicate that polygamous households should not be treated as a uniform family but
as a collection of nuclear families consisting of the household head, a wife and their joint children. Consequently, for development policy and interventions aiming to increase school attendance in regions that exhibit polygamy, the target unit should be the maternal nuclear family and special attention should be paid to children of junior wives.

Short Summary
This paper investigates the role of individual productivity in the matching process of spouses and in the allocation of resources among them, focusing on a polygamous setting. Using a simple game theoretical approach I show that highly productive wives are more strongly demanded in the marriage market than less productive ones so that a selection into being the first wife with respect to productivity takes place. Furthermore, productivity is positively associated with a woman's share of family income to be spent on consumption and investment, due to greater contributions to family income and larger incomes when single. This limits the role of rank itself as the source of differences in female returns. The findings are empirically supported by a positive relationship between indicators of female productivity, women's levels of seniority among wives and their children's educational outcomes in rural Ethiopia. The paper herefore offers a simple economic explanation for the common finding that children of first wives fare better along educational and nutritional dimensions than children of later wives. The findings indicate that polygamous households should not be treated as a uniform family but as a collection of nuclear families consisting of the household head, a wife and their joint children. Consequently, for development policy and interventions aiming to increase school attendance in regions that exhibit polygamy, the target unit should be the maternal nuclear family and special attention should be paid to children of junior wives.

Key words: Polygamy, Rank, Intrahousehold Allocation
JEL classification: D13, J12, O12

 


 

 

 


 

 

 

 


Last updated 28 August 2014 by IIIS (Email).