The Economics of Dowry and Brideprice

The Economics of Dowry and Brideprice - The Economics of...

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Unformatted text preview: The Economics of Dowry and Brideprice Siwan Anderson P ayments between families at the time of marriage existed during the history of most developed countries and are currently pervasive in many areas of the developing world. These payments can be substantial enough to affect the welfare of women and a society’s distribution of wealth. Recent estimates document transfers per marriage amounting to six times the annual household income in South Asia (Rao, 1993), and four times in sub-Saharan Africa (Dekker and Hoogeveen, 2002). This paper first establishes some basic facts about the prevalence and magni- tude of marriage payments. It then discusses how such patterns vary across coun- tries depending upon economic conditions, societal structures, institutions, and family characteristics. Such payments have also evolved within societies over time. For example, in some periods such payments have risen sharply. In some cases, payments have shifted from the grooms’ sides to the brides’, and vice versa. Also, property rights over such payments have sometimes shifted between marrying partners and parental generations. Economists, who have only recently begun to work on the topic, have focused on explaining these facts. The second part of the paper addresses this economic literature. Though considerable insight into many of the facts has been gained, many of the existing economic explanations are weakly convincing, and many puzzles remain. One crucial difficulty is that solid data in this field have been extremely rare. The descriptions of marriage payments in this paper are synthe- sized from a patchwork of studies across periods, places, and even epochs, and there are doubtless numerous cases which remain undocumented. Thus, the paper y Siwan Anderson is Assistant Professor of Economics, University of British Columbia, Vancou- ver, British Columbia, Canada. Her e-mail address is ^ [email protected] & . Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 21, Number 4—Fall 2007—Pages 151–174 concludes with some conjectures along with suggestions for the type of data collection that will be needed to differentiate among them. Prevalence of Marriage Payments Most societies, at some point in their history, have been characterized by payments at the time of marriage. Such payments typically go hand-in-hand with marriages arranged by the parents of the respective spouses. These marriage payments come in various forms and sizes but can be classified into two broad categories: transfers from the family of the bride to that of the groom, broadly termed as “dowry,” or from the groom’s side to the bride’s, broadly termed as “brideprice.” Brideprice occurs in two-thirds of societies recorded in Murdock’s (1967) World Ethnographic Atlas of 1167 preindustrial societies. Conversely, dowry occurs in less than 4 percent of this sample. However, in terms of population numbers, dowry has played a more significant role, because the convention of dowry has occurred mainly in Europe and Asia, where more than 70 percent of the...
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The Economics of Dowry and Brideprice - The Economics of...

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