Polygyny and spousal violence in India: Findings from the 2019 – 2021 national family health survey


  • Rangasamy Nagarajan Department of Population and Development, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, India
  • Harihar Sahoo Department of Family and Generations, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, India


Polygyny, Spousal violence, India, National family health survey


Polygyny results in a variety of physical, sexual, and psychological consequences for women which has an impact on gender relations such as the subordination of women, unequal treatment of spouses, neglect of children, rivaling step-children, and inheritance issues among children/spouses. This study aims to explore the association between polygyny and spousal violence in India using the data from the fifth round of the National Family Health Survey-5 of India in 2019 – 2021, which provides information on both polygyny and spousal violence. To understand the effect of polygyny on spousal violence, multivariate logistic regressions were used to obtain unadjusted and adjusted odds ratios by controlling a number of explanatory factors. The results reveal that women in polygynous unions experience more spousal violence compared with those in monogamous unions. The results indicate that, since the law does not permit men to be married to more than one wife simultaneously, this form of marriage should be discouraged by strictly enforcing it to protect women from marital violence in polygynous unions. The analysis contributes to the body of the literature on the association between polygynous marriage and spousal violence in the Indian context.


Abramsky, T., Charlotte, H.W., Garcia-Moreno, C., Devries, K., Kiss, L., Ellsberg, M., et al. (2011). What factors are associated with recent intimate partner violence? Findings from the WHO multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence. BMC Public Health, 11:109. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-11-109

Adewale, D., Dey, N.E., Ansah, KO., Duah, H.O., & Agbadi, P. (2021). The association between polygyny statuses of currently married and in-union women and attitude towards intimate partner violence against women in Ghana. Social Sciences and Humanities Open, 4(1):100207. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssaho.2021.100207

Agadjanian, V., & Ezeh, A.C. (2000). Polygyny, gender relations, and reproduction in Ghana. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 31(4):427-441. https://doi.org/10.3138/jcfs.31.4.427

Ahinkorah, B.O. (2021). Polygyny and intimate partner violence in Sub-Saharan Africa: Evidence from 16 cross-sectional demographic and health surveys. SSM Population Health, 13:100729. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssmph.2021.100729

Ahinkorah, B.O., Onayemi, O.M., Seidu, A.A., Awopegba, O.E., & Ajayi, A.I. (2022). Association between girl-child marriage and intimate partner violence in Sub-Saharan Africa: Insights from a multicountry analysis of demographic and health surveys. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 37(15-16):NP13560-NP13580. https://doi.org/10.1177/08862605211005139

Aizer, A. (2011). Poverty, violence, and health: The impact of domestic violence during pregnancy on newborn health. Journal of Human Resources, 46(3):518-538. https://doi.org/10.1353/jhr.2011.0024

Al-Krenawi, A. (2001). Women from polygamous and monogamous marriages in an out-patient psychiatric clinic. Transcultural Psychiatry, 38(2):187-199. https://doi.org/10.1177/136346150103800203

Al-Krenawi, A., & Lev-Wiesel, R. (2002b). Wife abuse among polygamous and monogamous Bedouin-Arab families. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 36(3-4):151-165. https://doi.org/10.1300/J087v36n03_09

Al-Krenawi, A., Graham, J.R., & Slonim-Nevo, V. (2002a). Mental health aspects of Arab-Israeli adolescents from polygamous versus monogamous families. Journal of Social Psychology, 142(4):446-460. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224540209603911

Altman, I., & Ginat, J. (1996). Polygamous Families in Contemporary Society. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511663987

Amo-Adjei, J., & Tuoyire, D.A. (2016). Do ethnicity and polygyny contribute to justification of men beating women in Ghana? Women Health, 56(1):48-64. https://doi.org/10.1080/03630242.2015.1074638

Arthi, V., & Fenske, J. (2018). Polygamy and child mortality: Historical and modern evidence from Nigeria’s Igbo. Review of Economics of the Household, 16(1):97-141. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11150-016-9353-x

Ashby, B., & Gupta, S. (2013). Sexually transmitted infections in polygamous mating systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Series B Biological Sciences, 368(1613):20120048. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2012.0048

Barker, G., & Ricardo, C. (2005). Young Men and the Construction of Masculinity in Sub-Saharan Africa: Implications for HIV/AIDS, Conflict, and Violence. Social Development Papers, No. CPR 26. Conflict Prevention and Reconstruction Series Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group. Available from: https://documents1. worldbank.org/curated/en/481401468101357773/ pdf/327120rev0PAPER0AFR0young0men0WP26.pdf [Last accessed on 2022 May 20].

Behrman, J.A. (2019). Polygynous unions and intimate partner violence in Nigeria: An examination of the role of selection. Journal of Marriage and Family, 81(4):905-919. https://doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12570

Bhati, S. (2020). The Concept of Polygamy in India. Law Circa. Available from: https://lawcirca.com/the-concept-of-polygamy-in-the-indian-context/ [Last accessed on 2022 May 20].

Boltz, M., & Chort, I. (2016). The Risk of Polygamy and Wives’ saving Behaviour. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper: No. 7860. Washington, DC: World Bank. https://doi.org/10.1596/1813-9450-7860

Bove, R., & Valeggia, C. (2009). Polygyny and women’s health in Sub-Saharan Africa. Social Science and Medicine, 68(1):21-29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.09.045

Brainard, J.N. (1991). Health and Development in a Rural Kenyan Community. New York: Peter Lang.

Bretschneider, P. (1995). Polygyny: A Cross-cultural Study. Uppsala: Uppsala University.

Cherian, V.I. (1989). Academic achievement of children from monogamous and polygynous families. The Journal of Social Psychology, 130(1):117-119. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224545.1990.9922942

Cook, RJ., & Kelly, LM. (2006). Polygyny and Canada’s Obligations under International Human Rights Law. Family, Children and Youth Section: Research Report. Canada: Department of Justice.

Coult, A.D., & Habenstein, R.W. (1965). Cross Tabulations of Murdock’s World Ethnographic Sample. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.https://doi.org/10.1177/1069397102238925

Dalal, K. (2011). Does economic empowerment protect women from intimate partner violence? Journal of Injury and Violence Research, 3(1):35-44. https://doi.org/10.5249/jivr.v3i1.76

Dorjahn, V.R. (1959). The factor of polygyny in African demography. In: Bascom, WR, & Herskovits, M.J., editors. Continuity and Change in African Cultures. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p.87-112. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00116999

Durevall, D., & Lindskog, A. (2015). Intimate partner violence and HIV in ten Sub-Saharan African countries: What do the demographic and health surveys tell us? The Lancet Global Health, 3(1):e34-e43. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2214-109X(14)70343-2

Ebrahim, N.B., & Atteraya, M.S. (2019). Women’s household decision-making and intimate partner violence in Ethiopia. Academic Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, 8(2):284-292. https://doi.org/10.2478/ajis-2019-0041

Ezeh, A.C. (1997). Polygyny and reproductive behavior in Sub-Saharan Africa: A contextual analysis. Demography, 34(3):355-368. https://doi.org/10.2307/3038289

Gage-Brandon, A.J. (1992). The polygyny-divorce relationship: A case study of Nigeria. Journal of Marriage and Family, 54(2): 285-293. https://doi.org/10.2307/353060

Gallin, R.S. (1999). Wife abuse in the context of development and change: A case from Taiwan. In: Counts, D.A., Brown, J.K., & Campbell, J.C., editors. To Have and To Hit: Cultural Perspectives on Wife Beating. Urbana: Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. p.252-260.

Garcia-Moreno, C., Jansen, H.A., Ellsberg, M., Heise, L., & Watts, C. (2005). WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women: Initial Results on Prevalence, Health Outcomes and Women’s Responses. Geneva: World Health Organization. Available from: https://www.apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/43309 [Last accessed on 2022 May 20].

Garg, P., Das, M., Goyal, L.D., & Verma, M. (2021). Trends and correlates of intimate partner violence experienced by ever-married women of India: Results from national family health survey round III and IV. BMC Public Health, 21:2012. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-12028-5

Goli, S., Rana, M.J., & Gouda, J. (2020). Intimate partner violence: Effects on maternity care and pregnancy outcomes in India. Economic and Political Weekly, 55(6):71–76.

Gray, P.J. (1998). Ethnographic atlas codebook. In: World Cultures. Vol. 10. p.86-136 Available from: https://www.web.econ.ku.dk/bentzen/codebook4ethnoatlas.pdf [Last accessed on 2022 Nov 30].

Heath, R., Hidrobo, M., & Roy, S. (2020). Cash transfers, polygamy, and intimate partner violence: Experimental evidence from Mali. Journal of Development Economics, 143(1):102410. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jdeveco.2019.102410

Hindin, M., Kishor, S., & Ansara, L.D. (2008). Intimate Partner Violence Among Couples in 10 DHS Countries: Predictors and Health Outcomes. DHS Analytical Studies 18. Calverton, MD: Macro International Inc. Available from: https://www.dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/as18/as18.pdf [Last accessed on 2022 Nov 30].

International Center for Research on Women. (2004). Violence against Women in India: A Review of Trends, Patterns and Responses. New Delhi: International Center for Research on Women.

International Institute for Population Sciences & ICF. (2017). National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), 2015-16. India. Mumbai: International Institute for Population Sciences. Available from: https://www.dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/fr339/fr339.pdf [Last accessed on 2022 Nov 30].

International Institute for Population Sciences & ICF. (2021). National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), 2019-21. Vol. 1. Mumbai: International Institute for Population Sciences. Available from: https://www.rchiips.org/nfhs/nfhs-5reports/nfhs-5_india_report.pdf [Last accessed on 2022 Jun 06].

Irudayam, A.S., Mangubhai, J.P., & Lee, J.G. (2012). Dalit Women Speak out: Caste, Class and Gender Violence in India. Overview Report. New Delhi: National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.

Jakobsen, H. (2014). What’s gendered about gender-based violence? An empirically grounded theoretical exploration from Tanzania. Gender and Society, 28(4):537-561. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243214532311

Jansen, N., & Agadjanian, V. (2020). Polygyny and intimate partner violence in Mozambique. Journal of Family Issues, 41(3):338-358. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X19876075

Jejeebhoy, S.J. (1998). Wife-beating in rural India: A husband’s right? Evidence from survey data. Economic and Political Weekly, 33(15):855-862.

Jewkes, R., Levin. J., & Penn-Kekana, L. (2002). Risk factors for domestic violence: findings from a South African cross-sectional study. Social Science and Medicine, 55(9):1603-1617. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0277-9536(01)00294-5

Jewkes, R., Morrell, R., Hearn, J., Lundqvist, E., Blackbeard, D., Lindegger, G., et al. (2015). Hegemonic masculinity: Combining theory and practice in gender interventions. Culture Health and Sexuality, 17 Suppl 2(Sup 2):S112-S127. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691058.2015.1085094

Jeyaseelan, L., Kumar, S., Neelakantan, N., Peedicayil, A., Pillai, R., & Duvvury, N. (2007). Physical spousal violence against women in India: Some risk factors. Journal of Biosocial Science, 39(5):657-670. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0021932007001836

Josephson, S.C. (2002). Does polygyny reduce fertility? American Journal of Human Biology, 14(2):222-232. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajhb.10045

Kabir, R., Haque, M., Mohammadnezhad, M., Samad, N., Mostari, S., Jabin, S., et al. (2019). Domestic violence and decision-making power of married women in Myanmar: Analysis of a nationally representative sample. Annals of Saudi Medicine, 39(6):395-402. https://doi.org/10.5144/0256-4947.2019.395

Kidman, R. (2017). Child marriage and intimate partner violence: A comparative study of 34 countries. International Journal of Epidemiology, 46(2):662-675. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyw225

Kimuna, S.R., & Djamba, Y.K. (2008). Gender based violence: Correlates of physical and sexual wife abuse in Kenya. Journal of Family Violence, 23(5):333-342. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-008-9156-9

Kiros, G.E., & Kertzer, D. (2000). The impact of postmarital residence on fertility, early childhood mortality and child health in Southern Ethiopia. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 31(4):503-518. https://doi.org/10.3138/jcfs.31.4.503

Kishor, S., & Johnson, K. (2004). Profiling Domestic Violence: A Multi-country Study. Calverton, MD: ORC Macro.

Kishor, S., & Johnson, K. (2005). Women at the nexus of poverty and violence: How unique is their disadvantage? In: Kishor, S., editor. A Focus on Gender: Collected Papers on Gender Using DHS Data. Calverton, MD: ORC Macro. p.147-179.

Koenig, M.A., Stephenson, R., Ahmed, S., Jejeebhoy, S.J., & Campbell, J. (2006). Individual and contextual determinants of domestic violence in North India. American Journal of Public Health, 96(1): 132-138. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2004.050872

Kramer, S. (2020). Polygamy is Rare Around the World and Mostly Confined to a Few Regions. United States: Pew Research Center. Available from: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/12/07/polygamy-is-rare-around-the-world-and-mostly-confined-to-a-few-regions [Last accessed on 2022 Nov 30].

Krishnan, S. (2005). Gender, caste, and economic inequalities and marital violence in rural South India. Health Care for Women International, 26(1):87-99. https://doi.org/10.1080/07399330490493368

Krishnan, S., Rocca, C.H., Hubbard, A.E., Subbiah, K., Edmeades, J., & Padian, N.S. (2010). Do changes in spousal employment status lead to domestic violence? Insights from a prospective study in Bangalore, India. Social Science and Medicine, 70(1):136-143. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.09.026

Lardoux, S., & van de Walle, E. (2003). Polygyny and fertility in rural Senegal. Population, 58(6):717-744. https://doi.org/10.2307/3246672

Lesthaeghe, R., Kaufmann, G., & Meekers, D. (1989). The nuptiality regimes in sub-Saharan Africa. In: Lesthaeghe, R., editor. Reproduction and Social Organization in Sub-Saharan Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press. p.238-337.

Mason, F., & Lodrick, Z. (2013). Psychological consequences of sexual assault. Best Practice and Research Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 27(1):27-37. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpobgyn.2012.08.015

McDermott, R., & Cowden, J. (2014). Polygyny and violence against women. Emory Law Journal, 64(6):1767-1814. https://doi.org/10.4054/demres.2018.39.6

Mukhuba, T.T. (2017). The representation of patriarch perception in selected African literary works. Gender and Behaviour, 15(2):8561-8570.

Murdock, G.P. (1981). Atlas of World Cultures. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Nyamayemombe, C., Mishra, V., Rusakaniko, S., Benedikt, C., Gwazane, M., & Mukweza, P. (2010). The Association Between Violence against Women and HIV: Evidence from a National Population-based Survey in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe Working Papers, No.4. Calverton, Maryland, USA: ICF Macro.

Ogunwale, A.O., Dipeolu, I.O., & Olaitan, O.L. (2020). Knowledge and perceptions of marital rape among women in Oyo state, Nigeria. African Journal of Biomedical Research, 23(3):351-360.

Otieno, F.O. (2017). A Meta-analysis of the Association Between Intimate Partner Violence and Age Disparity in Sub- Saharan Africa. A Master of Science Thesis Submitted in Mathematical Statistics in the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, Faculty of Science, Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Available from: https://www.scholar.sun.ac.za/handle/10019.1/102908 [Last accessed on 2022 Feb 14].

Pandey, G.K., Dutt, D., & Banerjee, B. (2009). Partner and relationship factors in domestic violence: Perspectives of women from a slum in Calcutta, India. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 24(7):1175-1191. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260508322186

Parekh, A., Tagat. A., Kapoor. H. & Nadkarni, A. (2022). The effects of husbands’ alcohol consumption and women’s empowerment on intimate partner violence in India. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 37(13-14):NP11066-NP11088. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260521991304

Rahaman, M., Roy, A., Kapasia, N., & Chouhan, P. (2022). Spousal violence in India: does risk of spousal violence higher among polygynous unions? Cogent Social Sciences, 8(1):2103945. https://doi.org/10.1080/23311886.2022.2103945

Rani, M., Bonu, S., & Diop-Sidibe, N. (2004). An empirical investigation of attitudes towards wife-beating among men and women in seven Sub-Saharan African countries. African Journal of Reproductive Health, 8(3):116-136. https://doi.org/10.2307/3583398

Rao, V. (1997). Wife-beating in rural South India: A qualitative and econometric analysis. Social Science and Medicine, 44(8):1169-1180. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0277-9536(96)00252-3

Rice, P.L. (2000). Hmong Women and Reproduction. New York: The Ford Foundation.

Rocca, C.H., Rathod, S., Falle, T., Pande, R., & Krishnan, S. (2008). Challenging assumptions about women’s empowerment: Social and economic resources and domestic violence among young married women in urban South India. International Journal of Epidemiology, 38(2):577-585. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyn226

Ross, S.D. (2002). Polygyny as a violation of women’s right to equality in marriage: An historical, comparative and international human rights overview. Delhi Law Review, 24:375-384.

Sahoo, H., Nagarajan, R., & Mandal, C. (2022). Polygyny in India: Levels and Differentials, IIPS Research Brief, Number 21. Mumbai: International Institute for Population Sciences. Available from: https://www.iipsindia.ac.in/sites/default/files/research_brief_no_21.pdf [Last accessed on 2022 Jun 30].

Schuler, S.R., Hashemi, S.M., & Badal, S.H. (1998). Men’s violence against women in rural Bangladesh: Undermined or exacerbated by microcredit programmes? Development in Practice, 8(2):148-157. https://doi.org/10.1080/09614529853774

Shepard, L.D. (2013). The impact of polygamy on women’s mental health: A systematic review. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, 22(1):47-62. https://doi.org/10.1017/S2045796012000121

Sichona, F.J. (1993). The polygyny-fertility hypothesis revisited: The situation in Ghana. Journal of Biosocial Science, 25(4):473-482. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0021932000021854

Singh, S. (2019). The Politics of Marriage in Medieval India: Gender and Alliance in Rajasthan. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780199491452.002.0008

Solanke, B.L., Bisiriyu, A.L., & Oyedokun, A. (2018). Is the likelihood of spousal violence lower or higher among childless women? Evidence from Nigeria demographic and health surveys. BMC Womens Health, 18(1):20. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12905-018-0514-3

Stöckl, H., Hassan, A., Ranganathan, M., Hatcher, A.M. (2021). Economic empowerment and intimate partner violence: A secondary data analysis of the cross-sectional demographic health surveys in Sub-Saharan Africa. BMC Womens Health, 21(1):241. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12905-021-01363-9

Svec, J., & Andic, T. (2018). Cooperative decision-making and intimate partner violence in Peru. Population and Development Review, 44(1):63-85. https://doi.org/10.1111/padr.12127

Timaeus, I.M., & Reynar, A. (1998). Polygynists and their wives in sub-Saharan Africa: An analysis of five demographic and health surveys. Population Studies, 52(2):145-162. https://doi.org/10.1080/0032472031000150346

Tranchant, J.P., & Mueller, C. (2017). Gendered Experience of Interpersonal Violence in Urban and Rural Spaces: The Case of Ghana. MPRA Paper No. 79533. Available from: https://www.mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/79533/ [Last accessed on 2022 Nov 30].

UN Commission on Human Rights. (2002). Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences: Cultural Practices in the Family that are Violent Towards Women. New York: UN Commission on Human Rights. Available from: https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/15yearreviewofvawmandate.pdf [Last accessed on 2022 Jul 05].

United Nations. (1993). Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. New York: United Nations. Available from: https://www.documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/undoc/gen/n94/095/05/pdf/n9409505.pdf?openelement [Last accessed on 2022 Nov 30].

United Nations. (2015). Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. New York: United Nations. Available from: https://www.documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/undoc/gen/n15/291/89/pdf/n1529189.pdf?openelement [Last accessed on 2022 Nov 30].

Uthman, O.A., Lawoko, S., & Moradi, T. (2010). The role of individual, community and societal gender inequality in forming women’s attitudes toward intimate-partner violence against women: A multilevel analysis. World Health and Population, 12(2):5-17. https://doi.org/10.12927/whp.2010.22007

Wagman, J.A., Donta, B., Ritter, J., Naik, D.D., Nair, S., Saggurti, N., et al. (2018). Husband’s alcohol use, intimate partner violence, and family maltreatment of low- income postpartum women in Mumbai, India. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 33(14):2241-2267. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260515624235

Weitzman, A. (2014). Women’s and men’s relative status and intimate partner violence in India. Population and Development Review, 40(1):55-75. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1728-4457.2014.00650.x

Wekwete, N.N., Sanhokwe, H., Murenjekwa, W., Takavarasha, F., & Madzingira, N. (2014). The association between spousal gender based violence and women’s empowerment among currently married women aged 15-49 in Zimbabwe: Evidence from the 2010-11 Zimbabwe demographic and health survey. African Population Studies, 28(3): 1413–1431. https://doi.org/10.11564/28-3-640

White, D.R., & Burton, M.L. (1988). Causes of polygyny: Ecology, economy, kinship, and warfare. American Anthropologist, 90(4):871-887. https://doi.org/10.2307/680762

World Health Organization. (2013). Responding to Intimate Partner Violence and sexual Violence against Women. WHO Clinical and Policy Guidelines. Geneva: World Health Organization. Available from: https://www.apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/85240/9789241548595_eng. pdf [Last accessed on 2022 Jul 05].

World Health Organization. (2021a). Violence against Women Prevalence Estimates, 2018: Global, Regional And National Prevalence Estimates for Intimate Partner Violence against Women and Global and Regional Prevalence Estimates for Non-partner Sexual Violence against Women. Geneva: World Health Organization. Available from: https://www.apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/341337/9789240022256- eng.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y [Last accessed on 2022 Jul 05].

World Health Organization. (2021b). Factsheet: Violence against Women. Geneva: World Health Organization. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/factsheets/detail/violence-against-women [Last accessed on 2022 Aug 05].

Yelamanchili, V., & Parasuraman, S. (2010). Polygamous Marriages in India. Paper Presented at the Annual Conference of the Population Association of America held at Dallas, Texas, USA during April 15-17, 2010, Available from: https://www.paa2010.populationassociation.org/papers/100754 [Last accessed on 2022 Jul 05].