Dowry: Household Responses to Expected Marriage Payments
AbstractDowry is a ubiquitous feature of South Asian marriage markets. However, empirical research
on dowry has been limited by the lack of data. We utilize retrospective information on gifts
exchanged at the time of marriage for 39,544 marriages during 1960-2008 (a) to describe dowry
trends and (b) to examine the impact of dowry expectations on households’ financial and childbearing decisions in contemporary rural India. Average real net dowry has been remarkably
stable over time; although there is considerable heterogeneity across castes, religions, and states.
We also test if credit-constrained parents respond to the “lumpy” nature of dowry payments at
the time of marriage by saving in advance. We find that, relative to parents of firstborn-boys,
parents of firstborn-girls increase per capita household saving and fathers work more after the
child’s birth if expected future dowry payment is higher.