In Gambia polygamy is a widely accepted (if not a widely
debated) practice. Islamic tradition allows a man to
marry up to four wives. They are usually referred to
as co-wives. The highest status wife is the first wife.
Usually a manís first wife will be a woman about his
same age, but other wives who are married over the years
tend to be much younger and in some cases wives can
be over half their age. Partly due to the fact that
older men marry the available younger women, men tend
to marry at an older average age (29) than women, who
marry at an average age of 19. Polygamy is losing popularity
among the younger generation of men who see first-hand
the economic ramifications of supporting a large family
on a limited income. Many of this current Gambian generation
prefers to have just one wife.
However, polygamy is only allowed by Islam if he can
support the extra partner otherwise it is forbidden.
This rule has not stopped many Gambians of the older
generation marrying more than one wife knowing full
well they will run into difficulties. The reason for
this is because multiple marriages are seen as a status
symbol in Gambia.