|Polygamy hurts - in the
By Gulnoza Saidazimova
PRAGUE - A husband with several wives and
many children usually spends his money on quantity
rather than quality, and therefore his children
receive a mediocre or even poor education. This,
in turn, lowers the education level of those
societies in which polygamy is a common practice.
That is the conclusion of three Hebrew
University professors in a report called "The
Mystery of Monogamy". It is based on a study
conducted in the African country of Ivory Coast.
Eric Gould is a Hebrew University
economics professor and one of the authors of the
report. He told RFE/RL that the purpose of the
research was to look at the correlation between
polygamy and economic development, since all of
the societies in which polygamy is practiced are
developing countries, while monogamy is common
practice in all developed countries.
said the overall impact of polygamy on developing
economies is negative. "In general, wealthy men
like lots of children and lots of wives. But the
difference between developed countries and
nondeveloped countries is how people get wealthy
and a value of education in a society," he said.
"So, in a nondeveloped country, men don't get
wealthy through their education and through their
human capital. They basically get land or another
kind of wealth. They know their children are not
going to get wealthy through education, and so
forth. So, they prefer lots of children with a low
level of human capital."
The authors of
the research say that if a man gets wealthy
through a good education, he is inclined to take
an educated wife and invest more in his children
because he knows that less-educated children have
a lower chance of getting a good job.
study said polygamy used to be practiced in the
West but died out as the societies developed and
education became a key to prosperity.
Having more than one wife was a widespread
practice in pre-Christian and pre-Islamic
societies. Nowadays, it still exists mainly in
Thailand, sub-Saharan Africa, and in some other
Christian countries, the Mormons (the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) have practiced
polygamy since the sect's founding in the 19th
century. Based in the western US state of Utah,
the practice was officially banned under pressure
from the US government in 1890, though it is still
practiced by some breakaway Mormon churches.
About 30,000 excommunicated Mormons in
Utah, Arizona, and other Western US states still
engage in polygamy, as well as about 1,000 people
in Canada's British Columbia.
Asian countries and Azerbaijan have seen a boom in
polygamy in recent years. Proponents of the
practice say it is allowed in Islam, which allows
a man to take up to four wives.
the study on polygamy showed that the correlation
between polygamy and Islam is not as strong as the
linkage between polygamy and the level of economic
"We do some empirical work
using data from [Ivory Coast] in Africa," he said,
"and you find there even within Christian
communities that there is polygamy, and the
predictions of our theory are relevant for them as
well as for Muslims."
In 2000, Russia's
eccentric ultranationalist politician Vladimir
Zhirinovsky proposed polygamy as a novel solution
to the country's demographic crisis. The leader of
the Liberal Democratic Party proposed the
country's family code be amended to allow men to
take up to five wives. More wives, Zhirinovsky
reasoned, would mean more babies, and thus boost
Russia's shrinking population. After a brief
debate in parliament, his scheme was dismissed.
In Tajikistan, the 1992-97 civil war
resulted in a gender imbalance and subsequently
led to an increase in polygamy.
Kazakhstan, parliament discussed the legalization
of polygamy at the initiative of the League of
Muslim Women of Kazakhstan, about five years ago.
The league's leader, Amina Abdukarim Qyzy,
suggested that polygamy would increase the
country's population and "bring happiness to many
men and women".
According to a survey
conducted by Kazakhstan's daily Express-K in
December, 40% of respondents said the legalization
of polygamy was a good idea.
Azerbaijan, there were discussions in January
about legalizing polygamy. The main supporter was
the leader of the Islamic Party, Gadzhi-Aga
Legally, polygamy is still
considered a criminal offense in Central Asia and
Azerbaijan. But there has been a consistent
increase in men taking more wives through
nikah, or Islamic marriage. Nikah,
however, has no legal force in the region's
secular states. Therefore, in the case of divorce
or the death of a husband, the second and third
wives of the man and their children have no
Sheikh Muhammad Sadyq Muhammad
Yusuf, a prominent Islamic scholar in Uzbekistan,
tells RFE/RL there are strict rules in Islam about
polygamy. Only a man with substantial wealth is
allowed to take another wife after getting
permission from his existing wife or wives. He is
required to treat all of them equally in terms of
financial, sexual and general attention and to
provide for their children.
also said it would be wrong to believe the recent
increase in polygamy is due only to Islamic
revivalism. "Many men take more wives without
meeting the requirements [of Islam]," he said.
"This decision is not based on religion or on the
rules that allow a man to marry several women.
There are other, [sexual] reasons. It's very
Observers say hard economic
conditions force women to become second or third
wives. But many men fail to provide their multiple
wives and children with the same financial
Gould said there are
various ways to eliminate polygamy - from simply
forbidding it to creating better economic
conditions for men and women.
is to ban it," he said, "and the other is to
provide incentives to people to invest more per
child but in fewer children. So that can help
reduce demand for polygamy and then help the
economies to grow."
Gould said governments
in poorer countries need to subsidize education.
If there is a firmer link between a country's
wealth and its human capital, governments will
encourage men to devote themselves to finding a
single, educated woman and fathering only a few
children - rather than having several wives and
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