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Famine leading to starvation was a reason for some sales.
Gambling debts could be paid by selling a free or slave wife.
Wives for sale were treated like capital assets or commodities. Other sales were described as brutal, patriarchal, and feudalistic. One debate about the whole of Africa was whether Africans viewed the practice as no crime at all or as against what Africans thought valuable and dear.
Some modern popular songs against wife sale are vehicles for urban antipoverty and feminist organizing for rights.
Taxes were sometimes paid by selling a wife and children and paying the value as the required amount, especially when taxes were too high to permit basic survival.Sometimes, a wife was sold by a husband to a new husband as a means of divorce, in which case sometimes the wife was able to choose who would be her new husband, provided she chose within a certain time period, and especially if the wife was young and sexually attractive.In some societies, the wife could buy her own way out of a marriage or either spouse could have initiated this form of divorce.A husband might sell his wife and then go to court seeking compensation for the new man's adultery with the wife.By one law, adultery was given as a justification for a husband selling his wife into concubinage.
The nearness of a foreign military sometimes constrained a master in a slave sale that otherwise would have divided a family.