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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.
The economist Michèle Tertilt concludes that countries that practice polygyny are less economically stable than those that practice monogamy.
However, the second wife will usually do the most tiresome work, almost as if she were a servant to the first wife, and will be inferior to the first wife in status.
A 1930s study of the Mende in the west African state of Sierra Leone concluded that a plurality of wives is an agricultural asset, since a large number of women makes it unnecessary to employ wage laborers.
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.
Historically, polygyny was partly accepted in ancient Hebrew society, in classical China, and in sporadic traditional Native American, African and Polynesian cultures.
In India it was known to have been practiced during ancient times.
It was accepted in ancient Greece, until the Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church.
In North America, polygyny is practiced by some Mormon sects, such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church).
Despite the expenses of polygynous marriages, men benefit from marrying multiple wives through the economic and social insurance that kinship ties produce.
With a large network of in-laws, these men have the ties they need to compensate for other economic shortages.
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.