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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.An elderly cultivator, with several wives and likely several young male children, benefits from having a much larger workforce within his household.By the combined efforts of his young sons and young wives, he may gradually expand his cultivation and become more prosperous.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.A 1930s study of the Mende in the west African state of Sierra Leone concluded that a plurality of wives is an agricultural asset, since a large number of women makes it unnecessary to employ wage laborers.
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.A man with a single wife has less help in cultivation and is likely to have little or no help for felling trees.According to Boserup's historical data, women living in such a structure also welcome one or more co-wives to share with them the burden of daily labor.Polygynous countries usually have a higher fertility rate, fewer savings reserves, and a lower GDP.
Fertility would decrease by 40%, savings would increase by 70%, and GDP would increase by 170% if polygyny was banned.
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.