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A man with a single wife has less help in cultivation and is likely to have little or no help for felling trees.According to Boserup's historical data, women living in such a structure also welcome one or more co-wives to share with them the burden of daily labor.The status of a mistress is not that of a wife, and any children born of such relationships were and some still are considered illegitimate and subject to legal disadvantage.Historically, polygyny was partly accepted in ancient Hebrew society, in classical China, and in sporadic traditional Native American, African and Polynesian cultures.

Most countries that permit polygamy are Muslim-majority countries in which polygyny is the only form permitted.

Polygyny is considered an economic advantage in many rural areas.

In some cases, the economic role of the additional wife enables the husband to enjoy more leisure.

Anthropologist Jack Goody's comparative study of marriage around the world, using the Ethnographic Atlas, demonstrated a historical correlation between the practice of extensive shifting horticulture and polygyny in the majority of Sub-Saharan African societies.

Drawing on the work of Ester Boserup, Goody notes that in some of the sparsely populated regions where shifting cultivation takes place in Africa, much of the work is done by women.

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