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Cooperation in polygynous households

Cooperation in polygynous households

Barr, A., M. Dekker, W. Janssens, B. Kebede, B. Kramer

Many programs aimed at reducing poverty in developing countries involve transfers to households of either cash or in-kind resources. The optimal design of such programs depends on how decisions are made within households. Research has generated many insights into decision-making within monogamous households, but polygynous household have received very little attention to date. Now, as the roll-out of programmes involving transfers to households gathers momentum in Africa, the issue of how such programmes should be adapted to accommodate polygynous households is looming large. In some countries in sub-Saharan Africa over 40 percent of women are in polygynous marriages. This paper investigates whether and how spousal cooperativeness differs between monogamous and polygynous households.

In this Nottingham School of Economics working paper, published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Abigail Barr and coauthors investigate differences across monogamous and polygynous households in the willingness of husbands and wives to cooperate to maximize household gains. To do this, the researchers engaged a sample of Nigerian husbands and wives to play a series of public goods games for money under carefully controlled conditions. They found that, compared to monogamous husbands and wives, polygynous husbands and wives are less cooperative, one with another, and co-wives are least cooperative, one with another. The husbands’ and wives’ behaviour in a corresponding series of inter-household games indicates that these differences cannot be attributed to selection of less cooperative people into polygyny. Finally, behaviour in polygynous households is more reciprocal and less apparently altruistic.

American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, “Cooperation in polygynous households”, by Barr, A., M. Dekker, W. Janssens, B. Kebede, B. Kramer.

 

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Posted on Wednesday 13th March 2019

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