Polygamy and Child Mortality: Historical and Modern Evidence from Nigeria’s Igbo | Abstract

We use historical and modern data on the Igbo ethnic group in Nigeria to assess the relationship between polygamy and child mortality. We examine several possible channels for this correlation, and test its sensitivity to observable characteristics of individuals, households, and regions in order to infer the scope for selection on unobservables to drive the polygamy-child mortality correlation. We find a statistically significant positive relationship between polygamy and child mortality in the modern period, and a statistically insignificant positive relationship in the historical data. Although there is a limited role for polygamist-specific intra-household dynamics and behavioral practices in shaping the mortality of children in such households, the sensitivity of the polygamy-child mortality correlation is consistent with an important role for selection into polygamy, particularly on unobservable characteristics.