Social Norms of Bridewealth - a Systematic Analysis of the Impact of Polygyny and Social-Economic Conditions

Christoph Buehler, Leibniz Universit├Ąt Hannover
Andreas Diekmann , Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH)

In the majority of cultures, marriages were or still are accompanied by transfers of resources of substantive amount. These transfers are of very different character and take place either intragenerationally between the parents of the engaged couple (bridewealth or groom-price) or intergenerationally between the parents and the bride and/or the groom (dower, dowry, or indirect dowry). Bridewealth, which is transferred from the parents of the groom to the parents of the bride, is the most widespread kind of marriage transfer and it is investigated by an extensive body of literature on its social, cultural, and economic determinants. Most of these publications, however, rest on individual case studies of particular societies and a systematic, comparative, and quantitative analysis of this topic is still missing. We intend to close this gap by utilizing data from the Ethnographic Atlas, which provides information on basic characteristics of 1,267 traditional societies. Results from multivariate logit-regressions support central arguments of the literature on the determinants of bridewealth. It is particularly present if societies are characterized by subsistence economies of animal husbandry, extensive or intensive agriculture, patrilineal kinship systems, and polygyny. According to the discussion whether bridewealth is an element of classless societies or of societies with some inequality, the analyses support the latter argument. Bridewealth is particularly present in societies with a basic stratification between an economic or societal elite and a less wealthy or subordinate strata.

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 Presented in Session P1. Poster Session Fertility, Family and the Life Course