Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Marriage Type and Reproductive Decisions: A Comparative Study in Sub-Saharan Africa

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Marriage Type and Reproductive Decisions: A Comparative Study in Sub-Saharan Africa

Article excerpt

The effect of marriage type-polygamy versus monogamy-on reproductive decisions is investigated using comparative data from the 1988, 1989, and 1993 Demographic and Health Surveys of Ghana and Kenya. The data provide no consistent support for the hypothesized negative effect of polygamy on women's ability to implement their fertility preferences. Rather, there appears to be some evidence of a stronger female influence, particularly in the polygamous 1989 Kenya sample, and a weak male advantage is discernible primarily in the monogamous samples.

Considerable attention has been paid to the role men play in reproductive decision making in subSaharan Africa (Adamchak & Adebayo, 1987; Bankole, 1995; Dodoo, 1993; Dodoo & van Landewijk, 1996; Ezeh, 1993). The underlying tenet is that, until recently, the almost exclusive focus of population policy and research on women has hindered fertility decline because the power to dominate sex and reproduction is culturally bestowed on men (and their families). Indeed, the authority of men in reproductive decisions is acknowledged by both women and men in the region (Bongaarts & Bruce, 1995; Dodoo, Luo, & Panayotova, 1997; Ezeh, 1993; Isiugo-Abanihe, 1994; Khalifa, 1988; Mustafa & Mumford, 1984; Phillips, Binka, Adjuik, Nazzar, & Adazu,1996).

It is reasonable to think that monogamous and polygamous marriages differ in the extent to which men influence reproductive decisions (Amankwa, 1996; Pebley & Mbugua, 1989). Polygamous marriages are typically more common in rural areas, occur among the less educated, and reflect larger differences in spousal age, suggesting that relationships within them may also be more traditional than in monogamous marriages (Bongaarts, Frank, & Lesthaeghe, 1984; Caldwell & Caldwell, 1987; Clignet, 1970; Dodoo & Seal, 1994; Dow & Werner, 1982; Saucier, 1972). In all the discussion about the role and dominance of men and their effect on reproductive decisions, the issue of whether men's and women's influence on reproductive decisions varies in monogamous and polygamous unions has been neglected. This article explores the relationship between marriage type and reproductive decision making by examining the extent to which the relative fertility preferences of women and men are translated into contraceptive use in four samples of spouses from Ghana and Kenya.


Despite increases in nonmarital fertility, marriage continues to be the locus of reproduction in subSaharan Africa, a region where nuptiality is virtually universal and where the average age at marriage remains relatively young (Lesthaeghe, Kaufman, & Meekers, 1989; van de Walle & Meekers, 1994; Yaukey, 1985). Polygamy always has been a significant institution in African society and continues to be the "most distinctive feature of African marriage" (Garenne & van de Walle, 1989, p. 267). In fact, sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where polygamy remains widespread (Bledsoe & Pison, 1994). Estimates of the prevalence of polygamy in African societies range from 20% to 50% of all marriages, making prevalence there "10 times as high as . . . [is] typical in Asia's polygamous societies" (Caldwell & Caldwell, 1990, p.120).

Although considerable attention has been paid to the relationship between polygamy and fertility (Garenne & van de Walle, 1989; Pebley & Mbugua, 1989; Pison, 1985; van de Walle, 1965), there has been little attempt to examine the relationship between marriage type and decision making in sub-Saharan Africa. Fapohunda and Todaro's (1988) study investigated the link between family structure and reproductive decision making. Even though they acknowledged the divergence of reproductive goals by gender and the importance of polygyny with respect to decision making, their assessment of family structure, implicit contracts. and the demand for children did not explicitly evaluate the extent to which marriage type affects the diverging preferences of men and women in Nigeria. …

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