Why is Polygyny More Prevalent in Western Africa? An African Slave Trade Perspective

29 Pages Posted: 31 May 2011 Last revised: 13 May 2012

See all articles by Tin Cheuk Leung

Tin Cheuk Leung

Wake Forest University

John T. Dalton

Wake Forest University

Date Written: May 13, 2012

Abstract

Polygyny rates are higher in Western Africa than in Eastern Africa. The African slave trades explain this diff erence. More male slaves were exported in the trans-Atlantic slave trades from Western Africa, while more female slaves were exported in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea slave trades from Eastern Africa. The slave trades led to prolonged periods of abnormal sex ratios, which impacted the rates of polygyny across Africa. In order to assess these claims, we present evidence from a variety of sources. We find the trans-Atlantic slave trades have a positive correlation with historical levels of polygyny across African ethnic groups. We also construct an ethnic group level data set linking current rates of polygyny with historical trade flow data from the trans-Atlantic and Indian Ocean slave trades. We find the trans-Atlantic slave trades cause polygyny at the ethnic group level, while the Indian Ocean slave trades do not. We provide cross-country evidence corroborating our findings.

Keywords: slave trades, polygyny, Africa, development

JEL Classification: F14, J12, N17, O55

Suggested Citation

Leung, Tin Cheuk and Dalton, John T., Why is Polygyny More Prevalent in Western Africa? An African Slave Trade Perspective (May 13, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1848183 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1848183

Tin Cheuk Leung (Contact Author)

Wake Forest University ( email )

Winston-Salem, NC 27109
United States

John T. Dalton

Wake Forest University ( email )

Winston-Salem, NC 27109
United States

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