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Publication - Professor Mhairi Gibson

    Polygynous marriage and child health in sub-Saharan Africa

    What is the evidence of harm?

    Citation

    Lawson, D & Gibson, M, 2018, ‘Polygynous marriage and child health in sub-Saharan Africa: What is the evidence of harm?’. Demographic Research, vol 39., pp. 177-208

    Abstract

    BACKGROUND
    Researchers from a variety of disciplines have presented data indicating that
    polygynous marriage is damaging to child health. This work has been used to support the classification of polygyny as a ‘harmful cultural practice’ and to advocate for marital reform across sub-Saharan Africa.
    OBJECTIVE
    We present a critical review of studies of polygyny and child health, highlighting issues of context and variation. We also consider methodological limitations of the existing literature.
    METHODS
    We describe key features of African polygyny, variation in its form, and the pathways through which polygyny has been hypothesized to influence child health. We then review the available empirical evidence, focusing on cross-national studies utilizing the Demographic and Health Surveys and relatively small-scale studies based on more specific socioecological settings (e.g., among particular ethnic groups).
    CONCLUSIONS
    We conclude that (i) heterogeneity in the impact of polygyny on child health should be anticipated a priori given substantial variety in its form, locally available alternatives, and the wider context of the practice; (ii) available evidence suggests that polygyny is most frequently associated with poor child health, but there are also instances where polygyny appears inconsequential or even beneficial to children; and (iii) methodological shortcomings are rife across the literature, severely undermining our ability to make causal inferences from observed relationships between polygyny and child health.

    Full details in the University publications repository