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In such cases, the deceased man's heir may inherit his assets and wife; or, more usually, his brothers may marry the widow.

The sororate resembles the levirate, in that a widower must marry the sister of his dead wife.

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

Senior wives can benefit as well when the addition of junior wives to the family lightens their workload.

Wives', especially senior wives', status in a community can increase through the addition of other wives, who add to the family's prosperity or symbolize conspicuous consumption (much as a large house, domestic help, or expensive vacations operate in a western country).

According to the Ethnographic Atlas (1998), of 1,231 societies noted, 588 had frequent polygyny, 453 had occasional polygyny, 186 were monogamous and 4 had polyandry; From a legal point of view, in many countries, although marriage is legally monogamous (a person can only have one spouse, and bigamy is illegal), adultery is not illegal, leading to a situation of de facto polygamy being allowed, although without legal recognition for non-official "spouses".

According to scientific studies, the human mating system is considered to be primarily monogamous, with cultural practice of polygamy to be in the minority, based on both surveys of world populations, Muslim-majority countries and some countries with a sizeable Muslim minority accept polygyny legally and culturally to varying extents; some secular countries also accept it to varying degrees.

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.

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

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