, Volume 53, Issue 5, pp 1319–1350 | Cite as

Productivity, Rank, and Returns in Polygamy

  • Julia Anna Matz


This study sheds light on the development of family structures in a polygamous context with a particular emphasis on wife order, and offers an explanation for the association between outcomes of children and the status of their mothers among wives based on observable maternal characteristics. In a simple framework, I propose that selection into rank among wives with respect to female productivity takes place: highly productive women are more strongly demanded in the marriage market than less productive women, giving them a higher chance of becoming first wives. Furthermore, productivity is positively associated with a wife’s bargained share of family income to be spent on consumption and investment for herself and her offspring because of greater contributions to family income and larger outside options. The findings are empirically supported by a positive relationship between indicators of female productivity and women’s levels of seniority among wives, and by a concise replication of existing evidence relating wife order to children’s educational outcomes in household survey data from rural Ethiopia.


Polygamy Rank Wife order Intrahousehold allocation Ethiopia 



I would particularly like to thank Gaia Narciso for her invaluable and continuous support. Furthermore, I am grateful to Gani Aldashev, Tekie Alemu, Kelly de Bruin, Christian Danne, Benjamin Elsner, Robert Gillanders, Worku Heyru, Matthias Kalkuhl, Eoin McGuirk, Carol Newman, John O’Hagan, Jean-Philippe Platteau, Zeratzion Woldelul, participants of various conferences and workshops, and three anonymous referees for helpful comments. Funding from the Graduate Research Education Programme by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences and from the Department of Economics at Trinity College Dublin is gratefully acknowledged. All errors are mine.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Development Research (ZEFb)University of BonnBonnGermany

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