Polygynous Unions and Intimate Partner Violence in Nigeria: An Examination of the Role of Selection

Julia Andrea Behrman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objective: This article explores the association between polygyny and intimate partner violence (IPV) in Nigeria, with attention to selection into polygyny. Background: Although IPV occurs within the social context of a family, the linkages between polygyny and IPV are rarely interrogated, and there is little attempt to differentiate between “polygyny effects” and “selection effects.”. Method: This article uses a sample of 19,189 couples from the 2013 Nigeria Demographic Health Survey to conduct (a) a multivariate analysis of the characteristics that predict selection into polygyny, (b) a propensity score matching analysis of the association between polygyny and IPV, and (c) a Rosenbaum bounds analysis to assess hidden bias that might affect both selection into polygyny and IPV. Results: People who entered polygynous unions were different on observed characteristics—including relative status of husbands and wives coming into the union, education, religion, and ethnicity—than those who entered monogamous unions. Polygyny was associated with higher probabilities of women's reports of recent physical and emotional IPV, net of observed differences; however, a Rosenbaum bounds analysis indicated that it was highly plausible unobserved selectivity into polygyny helped account for these associations. Conclusion: It is important to move beyond viewing polygyny as a “risk factor” for IPV and toward understanding how selection into marriage is an important social process with implications for IPV, health, and well-being.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Marriage and Family
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • couples
  • domestic violence
  • family structure
  • intimate partner violence
  • mate selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

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