The Economics of Polygynous Households in Sierra Leone

Raised of $3,625 Goal
Ended on 9/06/18
Campaign Ended
  • $782
  • 22%
  • Finished
    on 9/06/18

About This Project

This research is interested in the economics of polygynous households and how that compares to monogamous households in Sierra Leone. We measure the extent to which household members compete with each other to maximize personal resources and cooperate with each other to maximize collective gains. Additionally, we measure whether resource allocation differs according to member status (such as first wife or first born son),

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What is the context of this research?

Polygyny, the practice of one man marrying multiple wives, is a common marriage arrangement in West Africa. Around 37% of married women in Sierra Leone are in polygynous unions. These families tend to be the poorest, the most rural, and tend to have the lowest levels of literacy and educational attainment. Past research, mostly qualitative, suggests that there is acute competition between co-wives, but there is little empirical evidence of such dynamics. This study provides measures of competition and cooperation and links these outcomes to household resource allocation. Understanding bargaining power of household members provides important knowledge on how to effectively design programs that target the poor in complex maritial contexts.

What is the significance of this project?

Given how common the practice of polygyny is in Sierra Leone, and the fact that those who practice it are among the poorest, understanding the economic dynamics within these unions is imperative to designing population-specific interventions. Outcomes of polygyny differ depending on cultural/regional context and this study is first to examine this topic in the Sierra Leone. The resulting information will be beneficial to policy makers interested in targeting poor households through cash transfers or household benefit programs, especially those that currently provide benefits to either the head of the household or to only one wife.

What are the goals of the project?

The goal of the project is to collect original data and perform quantitative analysis on competition, cooperation, and resource allocation among members of polygynous and monogamous households. There is little quantitative research on the topic and none at all from Sierra Leone. This project starts to fill the research gap on socio-economic topics in one of the world’s poorest countries. We do this through a series of field experiments which measure competition between spouses and co-wives and generosity towards spouses and co-wives. A survey documents health, education, and economic outcomes for spouses and their children, intrapersonal household dynamics, and household economics for each household type (single, mono and single).


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Funds for this project raised through this platform will be used to pay the subjects for their time and participation and the wages of local enumerators. Each subject will receive payments for their participation, the survey, and their performance/choices in the behavioral experiments. In total, each participant earns a minimum of $2 and can earn up $5. Enumerators are hired from the community for the data collection process. They are paid per subject and are guaranteed 24 days of work.

Endorsed by

This is a very exciting project intended to compare intra-household dynamics in monogamous vs. polygynous households. 20%-50% marriages in the polygynous belt of Africa are polygynous. These families tend to be the poorest, the most rural, and tend to have the lowest levels of literacy and educational attainment. Knowledge of the extent to which co-wives compete with one another and their spouse in order to maximize personal gains and/or cooperate to maximize household gains will help the design of effective poverty alleviation interventions.
Do multiple wives compete or cooperate with each other over resources for themselves and their children? This fascinating project aims to better understand how different kinds of households with different marriage structures make decisions about who gets what within the household. Combining quantitative and qualitative survey work with experiments, this project will provide some of the most detailed information available on this important topic.

Project Timeline

This project will be piloted in late July 2018. Data collection is projected to start the last week of July and will continue for four weeks, finishing in late August.

Jul 18, 2018

Connect with field partner in Freetown, SL

Jul 23, 2018

Project Launched

Jul 25, 2018

Coordinate logistics

Jul 31, 2018

Pilot research project

Aug 06, 2018

Begin data collection

Meet the Team

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Additional Information

Monogamous households and single adults will also be included in our sample to compare against poly outcomes. Total sample size is 602 and consists of mainly rural households in the Makeni and Kenema regions of Sierra Leone.

Project Backers

  • 16Backers
  • 22%Funded
  • $782Total Donations
  • $48.88Average Donation
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