Polygamy and mental health among Saudi middle schoolers: The role of family cohesion and father involvement

Nisma Merdad*, Salman Elbedour, Jennifer Lau, Edward Barker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: This paper assesses the role of family cohesion in the relationship between polygamy and mental health and whether this varies as a function of the father's involvement. Background: Studies show that polygamy has a detrimental effect on children's mental health, yet familial variables that may account for this relationship have rarely been explored. Family cohesion is crucial for the relationship between a range of familial risk factors and mental health. Method: Data about family structure, family cohesion, mental health, father involvement, and other related sociodemographic variables were collected from students from randomly selected middle schools (students N = 758) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Results: Polygamous marital structure predicted more psychosocial problems and higher internalizing symptoms, but not externalizing problems. Polygamy had an indirect association with psychosocial problems through family cohesion, and father involvement moderated the relationship between polygamy and family cohesion. Conclusion: The findings suggest that living in polygamous families may impair the mental health of middle school–aged children, in part by diminishing family cohesion. Additionally, low father involvement may exaggerate threats to family cohesion resulting from polygamy and subsequent child mental health consequences. However, contrary to previous research, children's externalizing behavior did not vary by polygamous marital structure. Implications: Family-focused therapies, which include the fathers, may be of particular use to support this at-risk group.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


  • adolescents
  • family cohesion
  • family structure
  • father involvement
  • mental health


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