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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.
Goody says, "The reasons behind polygyny are sexual and reproductive rather than economic and productive" (199), arguing that men marry polygynously to maximize their fertility and to obtain large households containing many young dependent males." Polygynous marriages can be distinguished between sororal polygyny, in which the co-wives are sisters, and non-sororal, where the co-wives are not related.
This favours polygamous marriages in which men sought to monopolize the production of women "who are valued both as workers and as child bearers".
Goody however, observes that the correlation is imperfect and varied. Burton discuss and support Jack Goody's observation regarding African male farming systems in "Causes of Polygyny: Ecology, Economy, Kinship, and Warfare" where these authors note: "Goody (1973) argues against the female contributions hypothesis.
Drawing on the work of Ester Boserup, Goody notes that the sexual division of labour varies between the male-dominated intensive plough-agriculture common in Eurasia and the extensive shifting horticulture found in sub-Saharan Africa.
In some of the sparsely populated regions where shifting cultivation takes place in Africa, women do much of the work.The vast majority of polygamous marriages are polygynous.