In recent years, dowry levels in Bangladesh have risen to previously unforeseen levels—sometimes three or four times a family’s total assets. Some recent economic writings suggest that dowry functions as a bequest or pre-mortem inheritance, implying it persists because it is “good for the bride.” Using panel data from an adolescent study in rural Bangladesh, this Population Council working paper explores the association between dowry and the prevalence of domestic abuse to test the bequest theory of dowry. Contrary to the prediction of the bequest theory, married females who paid dowry at marriage have a higher likelihood of reporting domestic violence compared to those who did not. In addition, the relation between dowry and abuse is highly level-specific: respondents who paid small dowries report much higher levels of abuse than those who paid large dowries. In fact, paying no dowry is just as protective, if not more so, in terms of preventing abuse as the largest dowry payments.
Suran, Luciana, Sajeda Amin, Lopita Huq, and Kobita Chowdury. 2004. "Does dowry improve life for brides? A test of the bequest theory of dowry in rural Bangladesh," Policy Research Division Working Paper no. 195. New York: Population Council.