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What is a Dowry?

By J. Beam
Updated May 23, 2024
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A dowry is money, property, or goods that a woman brings as a gift to her husband upon marriage. The practice, also known as trousseau, is a custom that has been around for centuries and was most commonly practiced in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Modern times have seen this practice fall by the wayside because of abuse suffered by women as a result of misuse of the practice.

Historically speaking, a dowry was a way of providing a woman with a portion of her family’s wealth, which she would not otherwise be entitled to by inheritance. Additionally, it was believed to be the best way to protect a woman from suffering abuse or ill treatment by her husband. The gift was combined with a bride price, or rather an amount of money or property the groom would pay to the bride’s family in exchange for her marriage to him.

Though the dowry became the property of the husband, the woman would inherit it should she become a widow. Should the woman die, the money or property, less the cost of the bride price, would be inherited by her own natural born children.

What began as a custom to protect and provide for a young woman also grew to be a burden on poorer families as they could not afford to give to what a suitable husband or his family might demand. The practice began to compromise the treatment of women, as well. Though a dowry is now an outdated practice for most cultures, some countries have carried the custom into modern times.

India is an example of a country with dowry customs in modern times, although many of the laws pertaining to it have been changed and, as of 1961, its use is prohibited, although not unheard of. This ban grew largely out of human rights movements protesting the high rate of death among young married women as it is believed that the practice of killing them for the money or property was frequently carried out by husbands or their families.

The advancement of probate laws and women’s rights has made the custom obsolete. Women in most cultures are now allowed to inherit and own property and/or money. Further, prenuptial agreements, where allowed, can protect a woman's property from becoming marital or joint property.

CulturalWorld.org is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon942939 — On Mar 30, 2014

If wives are made so because of a dowry, then most western marriages are not with a wife, but rather concubines. For a concubine is a wife gotten without a dowry.

By anon282322 — On Jul 28, 2012

Many people misunderstand the the word dowry. It's not for the bride. It's for the bridegroom. For her, a dowry was to protect a woman from suffering, abuse or ill treatment by her husband.

By anon270973 — On May 24, 2012

If a man takes a dowry, I think he's not able to stand on his own two feet and doesn't want to stand on his own two feet. He is a man who has no shame.

By ddljohn — On May 03, 2011

@alisha-- You are right, I agree with you. I'm Middle Eastern and in my country, the bride is gifted with a lot of gold and gifts for marriage, which is her dowry. But many times, the day of the marriage, the groom will ask for the gold and take it away from her.

This is not right and this was not the reason why dowry started. In Islam, especially, since women were expected to remain home and be housewives and mothers, they had no financial freedom. The dowry is meant to protect the woman if her marriage does not go well and she is forced to separate from her husband. It should not be taken away from her for any reason.

By discographer — On May 02, 2011

Dowry isn't only paid to the groom right? Aren't their countries in Asia and the Middle East where dowry is paid to the bride?

I don't know which is better in practice. I guess if the groom takes dowry, he might mistreat his wife. If the bride takes the dowry, the husband might still take it away from her. And I think that lots of times, the bride never gets the money in actuality. Her father takes the dowry, in which case, it is sort of like selling the bride.

By ysmina — On Apr 29, 2011

Dowry might be "officially prohibited" in India, but it doesn't really work that way in practice. There are still many families who practice it.

The article has done a good job of explaining why giving dowry started in the first place. But unfortunately, it is misused and is causing a lot of trouble for women.

By glinda — On Aug 11, 2010

Money paid by the bride's family to the groom.

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