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Anthropologist Jack Goody's comparative study of marriage around the world utilizing the Ethnographic Atlas demonstrated an historical correlation between the practice of extensive shifting horticulture and polygamy in the majority of sub-Saharan African societies.

Drawing on the work of Ester Boserup, Goody notes that the sexual division of labour varies between the male-dominated intensive plough-agriculture common in Eurasia and the extensive shifting horticulture found in sub-Saharan Africa.

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When a man is married to more than one wife at a time, sociologists call this polygyny.When a woman is married to more than one husband at a time, it is called polyandry.Polygyny may also result from the practice of levirate marriage.In such cases, the deceased man's heir may inherit his assets and wife; or, more usually, his brothers may marry the widow.and the first husband is acknowledged as the father of all her children.

However, the woman may never cohabit with that man, taking multiple lovers instead; these men must acknowledge the paternity of their children (and hence demonstrate that no caste prohibitions have been breached) by paying the midwife.

If a marriage includes multiple husbands and wives, it can be called a group marriage.

In contrast, monogamy is marriage consisting of only two parties.

It is most common in societies marked by high male mortality.

It is associated with partible paternity, the cultural belief that a child can have more than one father.

The family of the late wife, in other words, must provide a replacement for her, thus maintaining the marriage alliance.