Polygyny, first marriage and fertility in Senegal and Mali

Solene Lardoux, University of Pennsylvania


Marriage in West Africa is almost universal; polygyny, a form of union where a man is married to more than one wife, is widely practiced in Senegal and Mali. Age at first marriage is very early for girls and divorced or widowed women quickly remarry. The first chapter is a study of female fertility in rural Senegal according to whether the women are living in monogamous or polygynous unions. The fertility of each wife decreases with the number of wives in the union; the wife of highest rank is more likely to have given birth in the previous year than her co-wives; age of the husband appears to have a stronger effect for monogamists than for polygynists, for whom it is substantial only after 60; childbearing by one wife during the previous year increases the probability of a birth to a co-wife; finally, the presence of a first wife past the age of childbearing has no effect on the fertility of her co-wives. Chapter 2 essentially describes the entry into first marriage in Mali as a process and investigates the relationship between types of marriage celebration, time to co-residence of spouses and age at first birth. The study shows that the delay of age at first marriage (i.e. age at first marriage celebration) is greater for men than for women in Bamako only. The most frequent sequence of marriage ceremonies is the sequence of the three ceremonies (religious, customary, civil) observed together in Bamako; and of the religious and customary ceremonies in other urban and rural areas. The distinction between first births that occur prior to or after the first celebration of marriage shows little change of the timing of first births after first marriage ceremony. In contrast, first births before marriage concern more the younger generation, in all places of residence. Chapter 3 focuses on entry into first marriage in several villages and in Bamako. It uses the qualitative data on first marriage that I collected during a four-month fieldwork in Mali. Islam is the main religion in Mali and marital practices differ between ethnic groups who live in different regions of Mali. For instance, some ethnic groups observe a traditional time of several years between the religious marriage and the entry of the wife into her husband's house. However, the consummation of the marriage often occurs soon after the religious marriage and sexual relations may be observed during the interval when the husband has rights of visits before the start of co-residence with his wife. In other ethnic groups, the religious marriage and the start of co-residence may occur at a very young age but the consummation of the marriage may not happen until later because of the young age of the girl. Findings of this paper show how the concepts of “living with a man”, “marriage not consummated” that are used in the DHS are particularly ambiguous and may not always measure the age at marriage. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

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Recommended Citation

Lardoux, Solene, "Polygyny, first marriage and fertility in Senegal and Mali" (2004). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3152073.