Collectivist cultures are likely to practice polygamy—a marriage between one man and several women. Although it is unfamiliar to much of the Western world, polygamy has been the most common form of marriage across the ages, and it remains preva­lent today in the Middle East and other parts of Africa. The religion of Islam allows a man to have up to four wives; the man’s personal wealth and his ability to provide for numerous wives usually determine how many he marries (Arusha, 2008).

In countries where polygamy is the norm, some people do oppose its practice (al-Mograbi,

2011; Amnesty International, 2011). For exam­ple, in the African country of Swaziland, a man’s right to polygamy is part of the new constitution.

However, despite the fact that the king has 13 wives, his 18-year-old daughter, Princess Sikh- anyiso, is leading opposition to the tradition. The opponents—including women in both urban and rural areas—view polygamy as a cover for having extramarital affairs. Men make their girlfriends into short-term wives and soon discard them for new girlfriend-wives. Women’s desire to have love and sexual satisfaction without sharing a man with other women is the primary motivation for the opposition and reflects a trend toward individual­ism in collectivist cultures. A study comparing Bed­ouin Arab wives in monogamous and polygamous



Marriage in Crisis

Many countries around the world consider the status and role of marriage to be in crisis, but the specific concerns vary greatly. For example, economic planners in Spain would like the 50% of women between ages 25 and 29 who are single to stimulate the country’s economic growth by marrying earlier and having more children. The German, Austrian, French, Japanese, Russian, and Korean govern­ments want to increase the number of births, and some even provide financial incentives and preferential access to housing and child care for people who have children, regardless of marital status. For example, for a couple having a second child, the Russian government offers pay­ment of $9,200, longer paid maternity leave, and financial assistance for child care (Niedowski, 2006).

Several countries are concerned about various kinds of obstacles to marriage for men. Leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates want families to lower high bride prices so young men can afford to marry.

In Italy commentators criticize the 33% of single men between ages 30 and 35 who still live at home, enjoying their mothers’ cooking and housekeeping. the govern­ments and people of India and China are worried about the millions of men who by 2020 will be without women to marry as a result of the imbalanced ratio of boys to girls (Hesketh & Xing, 2006). the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded a study in a rural area of India that found that, among children under 6 years of age, there are 628 girls for every 1,000 boys. the greater number of boys than girls has occurred because female fetuses are often aborted and female infants are killed due to the strong cultural preference for boys (Chung, 2006; power,

2006) . In India, according to Hindu tradition, sons have the important role of lighting their parents’ funeral pyres. Sons will earn future wealth for the family, but the dowries daughters require in order to marry are a financial loss to their families. the Indian government has begun to offer families scholarships for girls’ education to attempt to encourage births of female children. However, the many – centuries-old tradition of higher status for having male children will be very difficult to change (power, 2006).

marriages found that polygamy tended to negatively affect women: Women in polyga­mous marriages reported more depression, anxiety, and problems in family functioning and less self-esteem and marital satisfaction than did women in monogamous marriages (Al-Krenawi & Slonim-Nevo, 2008). Furthermore, the spread of HIV throughout the family of wives in a polygamous marriage is of great concern.

In the United States’ early history, Mormons practiced polygamy, but the Mormon Church disavowed the practice in 1890 (Hertzberg, 2008). However, fundamentalist sects that broke away from the Mormon Church continue to practice polygamy—despite the fact that it is against the law in all 50 states (Kovach & Murr, 2008). Experts believe that 30,000 to 50,000 polygamists live in the United States, including a growing number of Muslims and evangelical Christians (Peyser, 2006). Polygamy activist groups are lob­bying for decriminalization of the practice. They maintain that individuals should have the right to engage in the private conduct of polygamy without government interference.

Child Marriage

Around the world, about 60 million girls under age 18—some as young as 8 years old—are married. In Niger, 82% of girls marry before age 18; in a region of Ethiopia, 50% of girls are married before age 15; and 7% of girls in Nepal marry before age 10. These child wives face forced sex, denial of education, and special health risks (Tamimi, 2011). They face few, if any, life options after marriage. Most have to leave school when they marry, thus severely limiting their future economic opportunities (International Center for Research on Women, 2009).

Health risks for child brides are numerous, and damage can be lifelong (Santhya et al., 2010). Young wives whose bodies have not fully matured often experience trau­matic childbirth: They can be in labor for days, which can result in a dead baby and a

chapter 13

permanently damaged birth canal (Pathfinder Interna­tional, 2006). In Yemen, complications from pregnancy are the leading cause of death for young women between ages 15 and 19 (Khalife, 2011). Further, child and teen wives typically have much older husbands, who are often polygamous: The husbands’ age and polygamy increase the chances that they are already infected with HIV and will transmit it to their wives soon after marriage (Ali,


Poverty is a major factor promoting child marriage.

The financial burden of girls in poor families is elimi­nated when they are married, and families may receive a bride dowry payment. Girls who live in refugee camps are especially likely to become child brides. The United Nations, UNICEF, and other organizations are cam­paigning in the Middle East and other parts of Africa In Afghanistan this 11-year-old girl had to quit school when she

and Asia to prevent girls ages 13 and younger from being became engaged to her 40-year-old husband-to-be. married and to obtain for them the right to full and free consent to marriage (Veneman, 2009). However, in

countries where child marriage has been a traditional custom, it continues to occur even after laws against it have been established (Hedayat, 2011). In 2009 the U. S. Congress passed a bill to provide funding for educational and economic opportunities for girls so that they and their families have viable alternatives to early marriage (Hedayat, 2011).

Few cultures recognize unions between one woman and several men (polyandry), and even fewer approve of sexual activity outside marriage. However, a matriarchal cul­ture in China turns common concepts of marriage upside down, as discussed in the following Sexuality and Diversity feature.