The changing cultural and economic dynamics of polygyny and concurrent sexual partnerships in Iringa, Tanzania

Glob Public Health. 2013;8(7):857-70. doi: 10.1080/17441692.2013.815249. Epub 2013 Aug 14.


Polygyny has been identified both as a 'benign' form of concurrency and as the cultural basis of concurrent partnerships that are considered important drivers of the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. This paper investigates the changing cultural and economic dynamics of polygyny in concurrency in Iringa, Tanzania, a region with traditions of polygyny and high prevalence of HIV. Our analysis of focus group discussions, in-depth interviews and key informant interviews indicate that contemporary concurrent partnerships differ from regional traditions of polygyny. Whereas in the past, polygyny reflected men's and their kin group's wealth and garnered additional prestige, polygyny today is increasingly seen as a threat to health, and as leading to poverty. Nevertheless, participants evoked the social prestige of polygyny to explain men's present-day concurrency, even outside the bounds of marriage, and despite continued social prohibitions against extramarital affairs. Difficult economic conditions, combined with this prestige, made it easier for men to engage in concurrency without the considerable obligations to wives and children in polygyny. Local economic conditions also compelled women to seek concurrent partners to meet basic needs and to access consumer goods, but risked greater moral judgement than men, especially if deemed to have excessive 'desire' for money.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology*
  • HIV Infections / ethnology
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Marriage / ethnology
  • Marriage / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prevalence
  • Sexual Partners*
  • Tanzania / epidemiology