The investigated problem in this research relates to the relationship between polygamy and self-esteem in children. The problem is relevant because the concept of polygamy is popular in modern society. According to the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook, 588 societies exhibit cases of frequent polygamy, while 453 exhibited examples of less frequent polygamy given that 1,231 societies were studied (Al-Krenawi, 2013, p. 2). Apart from countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, polygamy can also be found in some Mormon communities in Canada and the United States and is becoming increasingly popular across Europe.
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The choice of polygamy as a suitable type of family organization is grounded on a variety of practical considerations, especially in Muslim communities. Wives in a polygamous family are forced to cooperate in completing chores in the household at the same time while being subjected to the authority of their husband and keeping up with constant competition to win more attention, love, and financial support (Al-Krenawi, 2012, p. 80). Polygamy can become one of the primary reasons for wives getting jealous and competitive and being forced to live within an environment where the emotional resources are distributed unevenly between the members of the family. According to the study conducted by Ware (1979), acrimony can appear among different wives as well as their children (p. 190). Recent studies have also found that polygamous family members are much more prone to psychological distress and issues with self-esteem.
Therefore, investigating the problem of how polygamous relationships within families affect the psychological integrity of children is highly important. Furthermore, the majority of research was conducted to investigate the effect of polygamy on wives or husbands rather than children. Because self-esteem has proven to be influenced by parental support and competence relevant to their parents (Killeen, 1993, p. 323), the effect of polygamous family relationships on children’s self-esteem can become a fruitful area for research.
Relevant Research Summary
The summary of the relevant research topics includes the following terms: polygamy, monogamy, self-esteem, and family cohesion. According to the definition given by Goodwin (1999), polygamy is a relationship between people that implies more than one spouse and can come in a variety of forms (p. 24). This research will focus on the type of polygamous family structure that involves one husband and multiple wives since it is the type that is the most prevalent in Muslim communities.
Polygamy is contrary to monogamy, which is defined as the bond of only two partners. The choice of monogamy over polygamy is also dictated by some social and historical factors. As evidenced by the Ethnographical Atlas, out of 1,231 investigated societies, only 186 were monogamous, which makes the concept of polygamy even more relevant to the research problem at hand. It is important to mention that the majority of societies that practice monogamy allow easy divorce, which is in contrast to polygamous societies.
The concept of self-esteem has been investigated by psychologists for a long period. As stated by Compas, Hiden, and Gerhardt (1995), the emotions of self-esteem and self-appreciation are crucial for an individual to adapt to society (p. 265). Self-esteem is especially relevant to children because they already have some minor problems adapting to society as it is. Positive adjustment of children to a particular environment depends on high levels of self-esteem. Therefore, it is important to study how family relationships can influence self-esteem. If polygamy in a family negatively affects children’s self-esteem, they will have issues with emotional adjustment as well as increased problematic behavior in society. If adolescents are negatively affected by the relationships within the family, they are more likely to develop poorer mental health, as evidenced by Orth, Robins, and Roberts’ (2008) research (p. 695). The investigation of polygamy’s effect on children’s self-esteem will provide in-depth information about the risk factors influencing overall well-being.
The concept of family cohesion is also important for understanding the purpose of the study because it implies emotional connections that family members have with each other (Rivera et al., 2008, p. 357). When it comes to Muslim communities, the relationships within families can be characterized by such features as “close-knit,” “marriage is important,” “social activities as a family unit are valued,” and “respect to the elderly.” However, such characteristics are more common for Muslim families living in monogamous families. According to the study conducted by Elbedour, Bart, and Hektner (2007), adolescents from polygamous families reported lower levels of family cohesion than their peers from monogamous families (p. 213). Family cohesion in polygamous families is crucial for exploring in the context of this study because it directly involves the psychological well-being of children as well as the subsequent development of their self-esteem and adaptation within the community.
Relevant Research Review
Relevant research on the issue of polygamy and children’s self-esteem lacks cohesion and in-depth analysis. In the course of the literature analysis for the current research, it was found that there were only thirteen studies regarding comparative analysis of children and adolescents from monogamous and polygamous families. Furthermore, the research was limited to a small number of cultures; to be precise, the majority of studies were associated with Bedouin-Arab Muslim tribes in Israel/Palestine. Only one study investigated the United Arab Emirates, and two more studies analyzed Nigerian and South African families. Therefore, there is a lack of research on polygamy’s effects on children’s psychological well-being in Saudi Arabia. The research on the untested population of Saudi Arabia will provide in-depth information about polygamous family relationships in the country, how children perceive such relationships, and whether the impact on their confidence is similar to the already studied countries and cultures.
As evidenced by five studies included in the conducted literature review—Eapen Al-Gazali, Bin-Othman, and Abou-Saleh (1998), Al-Krenawi et al. (2002), Elbedour, Onwuegbuzie, & Alatamin (2003), Elbedour et al. (2007), and Hamdan, Auerbach, and Apter (2009)—children and adolescents that come from families with polygamous relationships exhibit more signs of psychological distress, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, aggressive behavior, social problems, paranoid ideation, and attention problems. Therefore, the problem of how polygamy affects children’s social behavior is of the highest importance. Women in polygamous families with one husband experience pressure and competition that can transfer to their children.
Similar to the way women are forced to compete for attention from their husbands, their children can also compete with each other for their father’s recognition. Children that receive less attention from their fathers can develop issues with low self-esteem and self-perception, and children receiving more attention can develop higher levels of self-esteem. Despite the fact that such a hypothesis may be easy to perceive, there is a lack of actual experimental research with the involvement of a study group.
The concept of self-esteem in children that come from polygamous families needs more in-depth research in the context of family cohesion and children’s adaptation within the society. The comparison of children and adolescents from different countries may become useful for investigating the effect of cultural differences regarding polygamous family relationships because some of the reviewed research found no statistically significant differences in self-esteem between children from monogamous and polygamous families (Elbedour et al., 2007, p. 214). Thus, the demographic variable regarding the research plays an important role and deserves additional attention.
The main purpose of the research is to study the connections between various types of family configurations and their potential impact on the self-esteem of children. The research experiment will be associated with determining the type of family configurations among the participants of the study using the innovative picture-based method. For example, the picture-based method will include questions about what picture best describes the family structure, giving two options for respondents to choose from:
The picture-based method for determining the types of family structures is expected to bring successful results because children perceive images better than text. To select children to participate in the study, a multistage random sampling technique will be implemented with middle school students from both girls’ schools and boys’ schools. To measure students’ social status, the questionnaire will include the Macarthur Scale of Subjective Social Status that uses an image of a numbered stepladder, which students will use to illustrate, in their opinion, where their family is situated the “social ladder.” To determine children’s perception of their self-esteem, the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory will be distributed along with the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaires. The Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory includes a list of statements such as “Arguments with my parents don’t bother me,” with which students will have to agree or disagree. The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire also includes statements to which children will have agree, partially agree, or disagree (Goodman, 2001, p. 1338).
Materials and Methods
To select the study sample for the research, a stratified random sample of both girls’ and boys’ schools will be selected according to the geographic locations and sources of funding in Jeddah. Once schools are selected, classrooms in those schools will also be randomly selected. Overall, the number of selected students of different ages and both sexes will be approximately 800.
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With the use of the pilot study, the most appropriate age of students regarding their ability to understand and complete self-reports was identified as well as the optimum time for completing the questionnaires. Furthermore, the pilot study had shown that the new picture-based method of questionnaires presentation was minimally invasive because the concept of polygamous families is often subjected to stigmatization.
To measure the self-esteem variable, the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory, a 50-item questionnaire, will be given to students for completion. The measure has usually demonstrated good validity because it includes questions about different areas of students’ lives, such as family, peers, and general social activities. Students will also be given strengths and difficulties questionnaires for the assessment of their psychological adjustment. Control variables such as age, gender, the number of siblings, socioeconomic status, and parents’ education will be included. Another crucial variable for measuring is the family configuration: marital status, the residence of a biological father, and whether or not the father has more than one wife. These variables will be used in the research to put children into three categories of families: single-parent, two-parent, or polygamous. The results of the categorization will be analyzed according to the student’s answers to the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory to find connections between the type of the family and students’ perceived self-esteem (Coopersmith, 2002, p. 31). Furthermore, it will be a considerable advantage of the study to find connections between the reported behavioral performance and self-esteem indicators to see whether there are any statistically significant relationships between the two variables.
The materials used for conducting the research include a range of sources. The questionnaire experiment will take place at schools in regular classrooms during the breaks between lessons so that there is no disruption of the school curriculum. No special equipment is needed for conducting the experiment; however, the assistance of another researcher will help facilitate the study to progress faster and more efficiently.
It is expected that the research will bring results that will show statistically significant correlations between children’s self-esteem and polygamous relationships in families from which these children come. Seventy children of both sexes aged eight to fifteen will be included in the assessment of their self-esteem to find connections between their social behavior, their psychological issues, and their type of family structure. It is important to account for the demographic peculiarities of the study population because the previous research only included Bedouin-Arab Muslim Tribes in Israel/Palestine, Nigerian and South African families, and the United Arab Emirates. For example, the study conducted by Elbedour, Onwuegbuzie, Caridine, and Abu-Saad (2002) found no statistically significant differences in psychological well-being between children from polygamous and monogamous families despite the expected results that such a difference is more likely to occur (p. 255). However, the study conducted by Al-Krenawi, Graham, Slonim-Nevo (2002) that used the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale found the expected correlation (p. 448). One of the explanations for such a discrepancy was possibly associated with the demographic characteristics of the sample. In the study that presented significant results, the sample was from the city of Ramallah. Ramallah is considered one of the biggest cities in the country of Israel/Palestine and has an urban population. However, the non-significant study sampled Arab-Bedouin tribes, where polygamy is associated with a higher social class.
Social Status as a Contributor to Self-esteem
Therefore, the social status of families, their income, and the parents’ relationships should explain the results of the study. If the results show no statistically significant correlations between children’s self-esteem and polygamous relationships in their family, the social status, as well as income, can explain such results. It is more likely that children from affluent families with educated parents are less likely to experience low self-esteem in contrast to children that come from polygamous families with low income. The Macarthur Scale of Subjective Social Status will present a more detailed picture of how children perceive the social status of their families, which will also aid in finding connections between social status, family relationships, and children’s self-esteem.
On the basis of the reviewed literature, a conclusion can be made that mothers in polygamous families tend to have lower levels of education compared to their husbands. Three studies conducted by Al-Krenawi et al. (2002), Al-Krenawi and Slonim-Nevo (2008), and Hamdan et al. (2009) reported lower levels of maternal education, while one study conducted by Al-Krenawi and Lightman (2000) concluded that none of the mothers in polygamous families had an education. Therefore, the results of the current study should account for mothers’ education because tension and competitiveness between mothers can greatly affect children’s self-worth and self-esteem.
Income and social status should also be accounted for in the review of the results because the previous research reported either lower income in polygamous families in comparison with monogamous relationships or reported no relevant information to compare the income of the families. Such an inconsistency presented a challenge for the current study, which should include more in-depth information about the social status and income of the families and the influence of this factor on children’s self-esteem and overall psychological well-being. For now, the lack of consistent information about how family income affects children’s perceived self-esteem did not allow the current study to get an understanding of whether a family’s position on a “social status stepladder” has any impact on psychological well-being of children. Furthermore, the results of the current study are expected to find inconsistencies between the perceived social status of children’s families and their actual social status. If the perceived status does not correlate with the actual social status, it is expected that their self-esteem will be higher or lower depending on the position of the family on the social ladder. However, in children aged 8 to 11, the perception of the families’ social status may not affect self-esteem in comparison to older students.
The results of the study will also relate to the concept of family cohesion as a mediator of self-esteem in either monogamous or polygamous families. It is expected that the better the cohesion within the polygamous family, the higher children’s self-esteem will be and vice versa. For example, studies conducted by Jacobvitz and Bush (1996), Bynum and Durm (1996), and McCormick and Kennedy (2000) gave evidence that children from single-parent households exhibit more signs of behavioral problems compared with children from two-member families. Despite this, it is expected that children from polygamous families will have more psychological and behavioral issues compared with children from monogamous two-member families. On the other hand, the results of the study are expected to show that the self-esteem of children raised by a financially stable and educated single parent will be higher compared to the unstable and uneducated single parent’s upbringing. The results of the current study will not only pertain to polygamous family relationships since there is a lack of research on how children’s self-esteem correlates with different family types and relationships. It is important to mention that the study will present a new basis for future research on polygamous and monogamous family structures in a specific demographic population of Saudi Arabia.
Innovative Method of Questioning
The results of the study are also expected to present an innovative method of questioning children on their self-perception. The picture-based method is expected to bring a new non-invasive way for questioning children about the relationships in their families without forcing them to focus on a lot of written material because images are much easier to perceive and understand. It is also expected that the questionnaires will present reliable results because children are much more prone to express their honest opinions about any topic, which is a contrary characteristic to how adults may give answers to such questionnaires.
Because children’s self-esteem largely influences their adjustment in society, it is expected that the high self-esteem of children will correlate with high academic performance and good behavior reported by teachers. Furthermore, the gender of participants in the study group is also expected to play a major role in determining the level of self-esteem. Expected results are similar to the results of the research of Al-Krenawi et al. (2002), which concluded that on average, boys from polygamous families tend to score high in academic achievement compared with girls from polygamous families. However, it is expected that there will be no significant differences in the performance of boys and girls from monogamous families. Because women in polygamous families are expected to compete for the attention of their husbands, daughters in such family structures are much more likely to compete for the attention of their father, pressuring them into feeling acknowledged. Such relationships are expected to greatly affect girls’ self-esteem.
Overall, the results of the research are expected to bring more detailed information about connections between children’s self-esteem and polygamous relationships within families. Furthermore, the results will account for the demographic peculiarities of Saudi Arabia because previous research did not include the region as the focus group of the study.
Existing research on polygamous family structure supports the expected results that polygamy has an impact on children’s and adolescents’ self-esteem and overall psychological well-being. When comparing children from monogamous and polygamous families, it was found that children from polygamous families have more behavioral and psychological problems and challenges associated with social adaptation and academic achievement. Because none of the previous research showed any positive impact of polygamy on children, it is important to discuss the nature of this concept as well as the characteristics that can negatively affect children’s self-esteem and overall psychological well-being.
Development of Polygamy in Saudi Arabia
According to the article written by Salhi (2008), the revival of polygamy in Saudi Arabia began at the end of the 70s and is nowadays gaining momentum (p. 134). The spreading of this practice captures both educated and non-educated families; however, one of the reasons for the increased popularity of polygamy is wealth as well as the revival of Islamic religious values and traditions. Furthermore, polygamy is viewed as a more legitimate and socially accepted way of having extra-marital affairs (Salhi, 2008, p. 135). The article also argued the polygamous nature of men; therefore, marrying multiple women presents a legalized solution for accepting the human nature of men as “polygamous.” The current spreading of polygamous relationships in Saudi Arabia is supported by a multi-faceted system developed from a number of social and cultural aspects, such as religious beliefs, historical development, and traditions. However, when it comes to Saudi Arabian history, polygamous relationships were not commonly practiced in the pre-Islamic period. For example, the Prophet had a twenty-five-year-long history of a monogamous relationship with Khadija. However, polygamy was practiced by the Jewish community in the city of Medina. Muslims adopted this practice when they moved to the city, although the polygamous marriage was limited to the husband marrying only four wives.
Despite this, the Islamic world was greatly influenced by Western traditions and began advocating for women’s rights. The majority of Muslim countries began a move toward monogamy and advocacy for women’s freedom of speech, while Saudi Arabia remained one of the few countries that did not conform to Western influence. Therefore, the spread of polygamy in the modern Saudi Arabian environment is heavily supported by the country’s historical development.
Women’s Perception of Polygamy
Another important factor to mention is associated with Saudi Arabian women agreeing with polygamy because of the worries of becoming a spinster due to the “shortage of men.” According to the article in Al Arabia News (2012), men in Saudi Arabia travel a great deal, which makes them forget about marital duties altogether (para. 2). Furthermore, because of the Western influence, Saudi men are much more likely to engage in less conservative practices that are considered unacceptable in Saudi Arabia. Left with no other choice, women are becoming increasingly receptive to becoming second or third wives. The positive outcome of polygamy is associated with limiting sexual relationships to one family as well as sheltering children from being born out of wedlock. The negative aspect is the constant competition between wives for the husband’s attention since it is commonly accepted that the new wife is always treated as superior. The table below (Figure 1) shows attitudes toward polygamy in some Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia:
Lack of Family Cohesion
The tension associated with competitiveness in a polygamous household presents a major challenge for children to have adequate levels of self-esteem and have an ability to adapt easily among their peers. As found by the review conducted by Al-Sharfi, Pfeffer, and Miller (2015), family cohesion and violence in the household directly affect the relationships of children with their peers, the development of self-esteem, and sustaining stable mental health (p. 15). Al-Krenawi and Slonim-Nevo (2008) gave evidence that polygyny, as a separate concept, does not negatively affect children (p. 449); however, the quality of relationships within a family is what makes children develop either high or low self-esteem. It is also important to mention that research conducted by Elbedour et al. (2003) reported that the accumulation of risk factors associated with polygamy is what impacts children the most; such risk factors include the lack of parental education or competitiveness between wives for attention and financial support (p. 216).
Children can be greatly affected by the relationship between the wives in a polygamous household. The size of the family as well as the position of each wife on the “family ladder” is a crucial variable that influences women in a polygamous family (Shepard, 2013, p. 49). What is the most important to the current study is the extent to which women are affected by their position. The review of the questionnaires completed by students should pay extra attention to how many wives there are in a household to find parallels between children’s psychological well-being and the position of their mother in the family.
The possible limitations of the study can be associated with the lack of available research on polygamy and children’s self-esteem in Saudi Arabia. Because the study is limited to only one city in the country, there may be specific cultural and social preconditions that dictate polygamous relationships in a household. In regions where polygamy is a socially accepted practice that has existed for generations, the negative impact on children may not be as significant as in other regions.
The research will be limited to only studying children’s family relationships without taking into consideration whether their low self-esteem was developed without being affected by the lack of family cohesion and supportive relationships. The focus of the family relationships in a polygamous household will predominantly focus on mothers and their competitiveness; therefore, there is a lack of information available about fathers. The extent to which fathers can achieve fairness and equal treatment of their wives and children requires further research and analysis. If there is a positive correlation between children’s self-esteem and relationships in a polygamous household, there is a high need for developing strategies for improving children’s psychological well-being that has been affected by the lack of polygamous family cohesion.
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