Dowries, Resource Allocation, and Poverty


We study the relationship between dowries, wealth transfers from the bride’s family to the groom or his family at the time of marriage, and individual-level poverty in rural India. Based on the estimates of a collective household model, we show that the share of household consumption expenditure allocated to a woman is strongly associated with the dowry she paid at the time of her marriage. We compute poverty rates separately for women and men and find that women’s poverty relative to men decreases with dowry. Moreover, women who paid dowries are less likely to be poor relative to women who did not, even when their households’ consumption expenditures are the same. Our counterfactual policy analysis indicates that abolishing or reducing dowries (through anti-dowry laws or taxes, for example) may have the unintended effect of aggravating intra-household inequality and increasing women’s risk of living in poverty after marriage.

CEPR Discussion Paper DP15754