The Colonial Struggle over Polygamy: Consequences for Education and Equality in Contemporary Africa
28 January 2020
Bastian Becker presented a paper entitled "The Colonial Struggle over Polygamy: Consequences for Education and Equality in Contemporary Africa" at the Political Economy Workshop, at the University of Bremen, Germany.
Research on colonial legacies mainly considers pre-colonial conditions for methodological reasons. Interactions between colonial interventions and local conditions are rarely considered. This paper studies the long-term effects of Christian missions in colonial Africa to demonstrate that such interactions can provide valuable insights. It argues that the colonial struggle over polygamy, which resulted from missionaries insistence on monogamy, lowered demand for education in polygamous societies. Analyses of geocoded data from historical and contemporary sources, covering most of sub-Saharan Africa, show that the struggle leads to differential educational outcomes to the present day. While colonial-era mission presence raises primary school completion and literacy rates in polygamous localities, by about 4 and 7 percentage points respectively, non-polygamous localities benefit almost twice as much. More attention to such interactions can advance our understanding of variations in colonial legacies and the role of local factors and responses.