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Like "monogamy", the term "polygamy" is often used in a de facto sense, applied regardless of whether the state recognizes the relationship.In sociobiology and zoology, researchers use polygamy in a broad sense to mean any form of multiple mating.For such reasons, senior wives sometimes work hard or contribute from their own resources to enable their husbands to accumulate the bride price for an extra wife.Polygyny may also result from the practice of levirate marriage.However, the woman may never cohabit with that man, taking multiple lovers instead; these men must acknowledge the paternity of their children (and hence demonstrate that no caste prohibitions have been breached) by paying the midwife.The women remain in their maternal home, living with their brothers, and property is passed matrilineally.Polygyny is more widespread in Africa than in any other continent, especially in West Africa, and some scholars see the slave trade's impact on the male-to-female sex ratio as a key factor in the emergence and fortification of polygynous practices in regions of Africa.Anthropologist Jack Goody's comparative study of marriage around the world utilizing the Ethnographic Atlas demonstrated an historical correlation between the practice of extensive shifting horticulture and polygamy in the majority of sub-Saharan African societies.
In Europe, this outcome was avoided through the social practice of impartible inheritance, under which most siblings would be disinherited.Fraternal polyandry was traditionally practiced among nomadic Tibetans in Nepal, parts of China and part of northern India, in which two or more brothers would marry the same woman.It is most common in societies marked by high male mortality.This favours polygamous marriages in which men seek to monopolize the production of women "who are valued both as workers and as child bearers". Burton discuss and support Jack Goody's observation regarding African male farming systems in "Causes of Polygyny: Ecology, Economy, Kinship, and Warfare"Goody (1973) argues against the female contributions hypothesis.Goody however, observes that the correlation is imperfect and varied, and also discusses more traditionally male-dominated though relatively extensive farming systems such as those that exist in much of West Africa, especially in the West African savanna, where polygyny is desired by men more for the generation of male offspring whose labor is valued. He notes Dorjahn's (1959) comparison of East and West Africa, showing higher female agricultural contributions in East Africa and higher polygyny rates in West Africa, especially the West African savanna, where one finds especially high male agricultural contributions.
This constitutes a form of de facto polygyny referred to as concubinage.