Polygyny and Its Impact on the Psychosocial Well-Being of Husbands* Academic Article uri icon


  • Polygynous marriages occur worldwide; in the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Asia, and in some communities in Europe and North America (Altman & Ginat, 1996; Broude, 1994). Research on men's perspective regarding polygyny usually focuses on the benefits that men may receive from polygynous families, or on men's role in increasing their wives' and children's coping difficulties in this family structure (Gwanfogbe, Schumm, Smith, & Furrow, 1997; Kilbride & Kilbride, 1990). While a growing corpus of research has considered the impact of polygyny on the marital satisfaction and psychological and social functioning of women and their children (Al-Krenawi, Graham, & Izzeldin, 2001 ; Al-Krenawi, Graham, & Slonim-Nevo, 2002), no research, to date, has considered such factors in relation to men who are part of polygynous marriages. The present article looked at interviews conducted with a sample of 306 Bedouin-Arab men in the Negev region, approximately half of whom were in monogamous and half in polygynous marriages. Socioeconomic status, psychological functioning, family functioning, marital satisfaction, and father-child relationships were considered.PolygynyPolygyny has been defined as "a marital relationship involving multiple spouses" (Kottak, 1978, as cited in Low, 1988:189). It occurs in Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania (Altman & Ginat, 1996). It includes three types, the first of which is most prevalent worldwide and was the sole concern in the present study: polygyny, in which one husband is married to two or more wives; polyandry, where one wife is married to two or more husbands; and polygynandry, a group marriage of two or more wives to two or more husbands. The most common polygynous marriages are between a man and two wives. Researchers indicate that only 0.8% to 7.1% of men in polygynous marriages are married to three, and fewer still are married to four or more women (Al-Krenawi, 1998; Al-Krenawi & Graham, 1999b;Chamie, 1986; Welch & Click, 1981).Among women, research finds polygynous families to be "a definite stress" (Chaleby, 1988) that produces low self-esteem, depression, and psychological distress (Al-Krenawi, 1999, 1998; Chaleby, 1985, 1987; El-Islam, 1975). To illus'trate this point, a high proportion of Kuwaiti psychiatric outpatients and inpatients were polygynous women, compared with their ratio in the general population (Chaleby, 1987). Competition between co-wives for the husband's social and economic support is common, as is jealousy (Al-Krenawi, Graham & Al-Krenawi, 1997; Oyefeso & Adegoke, 1992; Rivett & Street, 1993). Children in polygynous families may also suffer a variety of difficulties. Elbedour, Onwuegbuzie, and Alatamin (2003) examined differences between Bedouin-Arab children from monogamous and polygynous families and found that children from polygynous families have higher levels of externalizing problems in general and higher levels of attention problems in particular than those in monogamous families. In addition, lower academic achievement was found among children of polygynous families in Cherian's examination of children in South Africa (1990).The Bedouin-Arab and PolygynyBedouin-Arab is the general name for all Arabic-speaking tribes in the Middle East. The Bedouin-Arabs are distinct to the Arab world because they inhabit deserts, but this should not be used to infer a unified racial, ethnic, or national group or a homogeneous style of life. Their range extends to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, among other countries (Yosef, 1992). .Today, Bedouin-Arabs are undergoing a rapid and dramatic process of sedentarization; 50% of the Negev's 150,000 Bedouin-Arab now live in villages that are officially recognized by the Israeli state. The remaining 50% live in villages that are not recognized by the Israeli state, and therefore lack basic municipal infrastructures and services; their residents live in tents and shanties and are in a constant danger of being forcibly removed (Schechla, 2001 ; Statistical Yearbook of the Negev's Bedouin, 2004). …

publication date

  • January 1, 2006