India's Dowry Payments A Sense Of Stability

India's Dowry Payments A Sense Of Stability
Dowry payments in India's villages have been largely stable over the past few decades, a World Bank study has found. Researchers looked at 40,000 marriages that took place in rural India between 1960 and 2008. They found that dowry was paid in 95% of the marriages even though it's been illegal in India since 1961.

The practice, often described as a social evil, continues to thrive and leaves women vulnerable to domestic violence and even death. Paying and accepting dowry is a centuries-old tradition in South Asia where the bride's parents gift cash, clothes and jewellery to the groom's family.

The study was based on dowry data from 17 Indian states that contain 96% of India's population. It focussed on rural India since a majority of Indians continue to live in villages. Economists S Anukriti, Nishith Prakash and Sunghoh Kwon used information on value of gifts - cash and kind - received or given at the time of marriage.

They calculated "net dowry" as the difference between the value of gifts given by the bride's family to the groom or his family and those given by the groom's family to the bride's family. The groom's family had paid more to the bride's family in a very small number of marriages. They found the average net dowry had been "remarkably stable" over time, with some inflation before 1975 and after 2000.

And the researchers found that a groom's family spends on average about 5,000 rupees ($67; £48) in real terms in gifts to the bride's family. The gifts from the bride's family, unsurprisingly, cost seven times more at about 32,000 rupees ($429). This implied an average real net dowry of 27,000 rupees ($361). Dowries consume a substantial proportion of household savings and income: in 2007, the average net dowry in rural India was equivalent to 14% of annual household income.

"As a share of income, dowry has gone down over time because on average rural incomes have risen in India," said Dr Anukriti, an economist at the World Bank Research Group.

"But this is just an average claim - to calculate how large dowry is relative to household income for each household, we will need data on household income or expenditure, but unfortunately we don't have such data available," she said.

  • Nearly all marriages in India are monogamous
  • Less than 1% end in divorce
  • Parents play an important role in choosing the bride/groom - in more than 90% of marriages between 1960 and 2005, parents chose the spouse
  • Over 90% of couples live with the husband's family after marriage
  • Over 85% of women marry someone from outside their own village
  • 78.3% of marriages are within the same district Read more...

James Koroma