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Poverty is a relative concept that is most meaningful within the context of social inequality in a particular culture. Among pastoralists in east Africa, often with mixed economies and herds that tend to fluctuate erratically over time, the problem of assessing poverty and wealth can be resolved by examining profiles of polygyny to provide a comparable index of wealth. Several profiles are examined in relation to a mathematical model based on the binomial series, with an emphasis on its social rather than mathematical implications. These series are especially apt because they closely follow the distribution of wives in a substantial sample of African societies, and they reveal different types of balances between competition and conformity associated with age and with status. The purpose of this essay is to redefine the problem of poverty in terms of the social profiles of inequality, leading toward a comparative analysis between cultures.