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Dowry payments in South Asia Anderson, Kristin Siwan


There is considerable evidence that dowry payments in India have not only increased over the last five decades, but that the custom has spread into regions and communities where it was never practiced before. The aim of this thesis is to understand why these changes have occurred. A particularly influential explanation is that rising dowries in India are concomitant with population growth. According to this interpretation, a population increase leads to an excess supply of brides since men marry younger women. As a result, dowry payments must rise in order to clear the marriage market. Reductions in the equilibrium age difference will tend to equalize the excess supply of women in the marriage market. It has been reasoned that the severe social and economic pressures associated with older unmarried daughters imply that households of older potential brides are willing to outbid the families of younger brides and that this competitive interaction places upward pressure on dowries. The first substantive chapter of this thesis explicitly models the dynamics of dowry payments when population grows. It points out some difficulties in making the theory reconcile the main observations relevant in the context of demographic change. In particular, there exist conditions under which population growth can cause dowries to decrease if the model is constrained from generating an increasing number of unmarried women. An alternative explanation is provided in the subsequent chapter which takes into account the phenomenon of caste. The explanation posits a process of modernisation which increases the heterogeneity of potential wealth within each caste. The new income-earning opportunities brought about by development are predominantly filled by men and as a result grooms become a relatively heterogeneous group compared to brides. If we perceive dowry as a bid that a bride makes for a groom of a certain market value, an increase in heterogeneity of grooms will increase the spread of dowries. Men who become more eligible in the marriage market will receive higher dowries, whereas the payments will decrease for those who are less eligible; however, average dowries may remain constant. The explanation as to why dowries also increase for the relatively less desirable grooms, and in turn average dowry payments necessarily increase, relies heavily on particularities of the caste system. Although there are numerous studies of the dowry phenomenon in India, research pertaining to the custom of dowry in the rest of South Asia is relatively sparse. The aim of the final chapter is to study dowry payments in Pakistan. Since an exploration of how they have evolved through time is not possible due to limitations of the data, the analysis focuses instead on the present role of dowry payments. The investigation concludes that the dowry phenomenon in Pakistan is similar to that occurring in India.

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