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Anthropologist Jack Goody's comparative study of marriage around the world, using the Ethnographic Atlas, demonstrated a historical correlation between the practice of extensive shifting horticulture and polygyny in the majority of Sub-Saharan African societies.Drawing on the work of Ester Boserup, Goody notes that in some of the sparsely populated regions where shifting cultivation takes place in Africa, much of the work is done by women.
In some countries where polygamy is illegal, and sometimes even when legal, at times it is known for men to have one or more mistresses, whom they do not marry.It was accepted in ancient Greece, until the Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church.In North America, polygyny is practiced by some Mormon sects, such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church).Goody says, "The reasons behind polygyny are sexual and reproductive rather than economic and productive" (199), arguing that men marry polygynously to maximize their fertility and to obtain large households containing many young dependent males." Polygyny also served as "a dynamic principle of family survival, growth, security, continuity, and prestige," especially as a socially approved mechanism that increases the number of adult workers immediately and the eventual workforce of resident children.Scholars have argued that in farming systems where men do most of the agriculture work, a second wife can be an economic burden rather than an asset.Under this tenure system, an additional wife is an economic asset that helps the family to expand its production.
The economist Michèle Tertilt concludes that countries that practice polygyny are less economically stable than those that practice monogamy.
A report by the secretariat of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) quotes: "one of the strongest appeals of polygyny to men in Africa is precisely its economic aspect, for a man with several wives commands more land, can produce more food for his household and can achieve a high status due to the wealth which he can command.".
This implies that members of a tribe, which commands a certain territory, have a native right to take land under cultivation for food production and in many cases also for the cultivation of cash crops.
In order to feed an additional wife, the husband must either work harder himself or he must hire laborers to do part of the work.
In such regions, polygyny is either non-existent or is a luxury which only a small minority of rich farmers can indulge.
However, the second wife will usually do the most tiresome work, almost as if she were a servant to the first wife, and will be inferior to the first wife in status.