Money and Marriage: The Practice of Dowry and Brideprice in Rural India

Afra R. Chowdhury, PhD, Brown University

In many societies, marriages involve financial transactions between the two parties. In India, dowry, the net transaction from a bride’s to groom’s family, is commonly practiced. Using Rural Economic and Demographic Survey 1999, a nationally representative dataset of rural India, this paper investigates the practice by decomposing it into dowry and brideprice. Due to the dependent nature of the two, Zellner’s Seemingly Unrelated Regression model is utilized. Results suggest that dowry and brideprice are not independent of each other. Despite the increasing prevalence of dowries over time (1975-1999), the size of dowries in real terms declined. Interestingly, parents of educated brides pay higher dowries irrespective of family financial backgrounds. My explanation, supported by contextual evidence, is that parents who educate their daughters are more likely to pay higher dowries for altruistic reasons – as a bequest to their daughters. However, for grooms, both education and landholdings provide higher bargaining power and attract greater dowries.

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Presented in Session 115: Marriage and Union Formation in Developing Countries