Over at this post by Skimpy, there’s a discussion in the comment threads going on about where dowry comes from. In the post itself, Skimpy makes this point:
then a friend told me that in Gultland dowry is mostly in kind (land, gold, etc) and they’re all in the bride’s name. so if her husband ditches her, he won’t have any of the dowry money, so he won’t ditch her arbitly! gults are smarter than i thought they are (good performance in entrance exams (which gults are extremely adept at) doesn’t necessarily mean one is smart).
This ties in with what Ravikiran wrote over email:
BTW, the simple analysis of this is to treat a dowry as an inheritance. In a society where inherited wealth is important, it is more difficult to defy your parents, not less. Your error is to treat the woman as the losing party in this transaction. It might look so now, but when she gets integrated into her husband’s family, she is also the beneficiary of the dowry her parents have given her husband.
But in the comments on Skimpy’s post, A Rod disagrees and says that dowry is the price of social status:
When a marriage is arranged what the women and their families look for is just 1 thing: social status. In order to buy the highest possible social status they pay as much as they can afford. It’s cause its a pure business transaction that dowry comes in as the price of social status.
That is why you will find a direct correlation between dowry and perceived social status but no direct correlation between dowry and cost of maintaining the wife.
And finally, Gaurav writes in and says:
In Maharashtra for instance, dowry is amost completely non-existent among middle class and upper middle class Brahmin families. But it used to exist 2 generations back. The ‘streedhan’ tradition existed even then, and ‘hunda’, i.e the marathi word for dowry was interchangeable with it.Now in Maharashtra, dowry cases are restricted to the poorer families, if at all. Dowry, when it is rarely taken, is taken by families which are in debt, or facing some sort of financial hardship, and they treat that money as a bailout. There were cases of dowry and bride-burning in the 70s and 80s on which books have been written or movies and even tv shows made, and in all these cases, it was shown, realistically enough, that the dpwry was used by a middle class family to get a higher status of living, like a new flat, or a scooter, or something.Today with the boom touching the middle class, dowry is not such an important source of liquidity, since the husband himself earns enough to buy these things.
All very fascinating stuff, and which will lead into my next post on why and when dowry is a good thing.