## Siwan Anderson, Lori Beaman, and Jean-Philippe Platteau

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198829591

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198829591.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2020. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 02 July 2020

# Bride Price and the Well-Being of Women

Chapter:
(p.117) 6 Bride Price and the Well-Being of Women
Source:
Towards Gender Equity in Development
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780198829591.003.0006

# Abstract and Keywords

Bride price, a payment from the groom to the bride’s family at the time of marriage, is a common cultural practice in many African societies. We examine the relationship between the bride price amount and a range of outcomes using a sample of 317 couples from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Motivated by common concerns associated with high bride price, we examine whether payment of a higher bride price is associated with earlier marriage and higher fertility; a greater acceptance of domestic violence; decreased ability of the wife to leave her husband; lower-quality marriages; and lower levels of happiness for the wife. We find evidence that women for whom a high bride price was paid are less accepting of domestic violence and are happier.

# 1. Introduction

The practice of paying a bride price—which is a payment from the groom or groom’s family to the bride’s family—at the time of marriage is a custom that is widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Among the African societies represented in the Ethnographic Atlas, 83 per cent report having bride price practices. Historically and today, the magnitude of the bride price is often significant. It is not uncommon for bride price transfers to be in excess of a year’s income and sometimes as large as seven or eight times annual income (Anderson 2007).

In recent years, this practice has come under criticism, particularly in Africa. A number of objections have been raised in both the media and in political discourse. Recent examples of articles from African newspapers criticizing the practice include Kelly (2006), IRIN News (2006), and Eryenyu (2014). The objections stem from the view that the practice is transactional in nature and, therefore, results in the commodification of women, which has adverse consequences. Husbands may feel they that because they have paid for their wives, they can mistreat them, leaving women in marriages prone to physical violence and conflict. The Ugandan women’s rights group Mifumi has reported cases where men say ‘I am beating my cows’ when they hit their wives, where women are denied ownership of property, and where women may be expected to be sexually available to their husbands at any time and without protection (Eryenyu 2014). In response to these potentially negative (p.118) effects of high bride price, Kenya’s most recent round of marriage laws legislates that a token bride price must be counted as sufficient to meet the needs of the custom (Dudley 2014). The Zambian government has recently spoken out to discourage families from requesting exorbitant amounts for their daughters (Tembo 2014).

In many customs, the woman’s parents are required to return the bride price if the woman leaves the marriage, particularly if she has not yet had any children. Thus, it is possible that the practice of bride price results in women being locked in the marriage because parents are unwilling or unable to repay the bride price. Due to this concern, Ugandan courts have outlawed the requirement for the bride price to be paid back upon divorce (Government of Uganda 2001; Mwesigwa 2015). The stated rationale for this legal change was that it ‘would make it easier for women to leave abusive relationships’ (Biryabarema 2015).

Another concern centres around the incentives that the bride price generates for parents. It has been argued that parents may have an incentive to ‘sell’ their daughters early to obtain the bride price payment, resulting in early marriage and higher rates of lifetime fertility. For example, Hague et al. (2011) report accounts from Uganda of parents taking children out of school so they can be married early in return for a bride price. In the words of one focus group participant, the ‘selling [of] a human being because the family wants wealth, [and] selling your daughter at a tender age’ are common. This is because ‘people prefer to get wealth at the expense of their daughters’ education’ (p. 556). Consistent with this concern, Corno and Voena (2016) and Corno et al. (2016) find that adverse shocks to family income increase a woman’s chance of early marriage among societies that practise bride price. Families appear to use early marriage, and with it the receipt of bride price, to smooth consumption. To combat early marriage due to bride price, the local government in Laikipia county, Kenya, has instituted a programme to give cows to parents whose daughters graduate from high school.

These views are not universal, however. While the view of the bride price as a purchase price of a wife is common in the (Western) media, this is very different from the general interpretation of the practice made by anthropologists. For example, Vroklage (1952) explicitly rejects the idea that a bride price is the price paid for the purchase of a woman. Interviewees told him, ‘a bride is not a buffalo’ and ‘a bride is not an animal’. Vroklage (1952: 135) instead describes it as ‘a compensation for the expense, the care and trouble spent on the bride’s upbringing…It is compensation for the complete loss of a worker as a bride withdraws from her own kindred and henceforth belongs to her husband’s.’ Bride price is particularly common among groups that practise patrilineal descent, and is considered as a compensation payment for the (p.119) bride’s future children, who will no longer belong to her parents’ family. In fact, in many groups, marriage is equated with the payment of bride price. In their work on the Kikuyu in Kenya, Adams and Mburugu (1994: 162) write that bridewealth (another term for bride price) is the primary indicator of marriage, with one respondent saying: ‘There was no ceremony, but traditionally I am married because I paid the bridewealth.’ With regard to the Sebei of Uganda, anthropologist Goldschmidt (1974: 312) notes that without the transfer of bride price there is no marriage and any children will not belong to the father’s lineage.

In this chapter, we contribute to a better understanding of the effects of bride price by studying the relationship between the bride price amount and a range of outcomes. Motivated by the most common concerns that are associated with high bride price, we examine whether a higher bride price paid at marriage is associated with earlier marriage and higher fertility; a greater acceptance of violence within the home; decreased ability of the wife to leave her husband; lower-quality marriages; and lower levels of happiness for the wife. Our analysis also examines the closely related question of whether the custom of having to pay back the bride price upon divorce causes wives to be trapped in unhappy and low-quality marriages.

We contribute to answering these questions with survey data collected in Kananga, a provincial capital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). We collect information from 317 marriages, for a total of 634 individuals. In this setting, the practice of the payment of bride price is widespread. Thus, our focus is on the value of the bride price payment and how this is related to different characteristics of the marriage. This can be contrasted to other studies that focus on the presence or absence of a bride price tradition (e.g. Bishai and Grossbard 2010 and Ashraf et al. 2016).

# (p.134) 5. Taking Stock and Comparing Our Findings to Other Studies

To date, there is limited evidence about the correlates of bride price in the African context. One of the most robust findings, although about the causes of bride price and not its consequences, is that higher education is associated with higher bride price payments at marriage. The reason behind this association is explored in depth by Ashraf et al. (2016), who provide evidence that, within Zambia, the positive effect of the wife’s education on her bride price is causal and widely known. In addition, they also show that this effect of education is taken into account when parents make the decision of whether to send their daughters to school. In our setting, we have also found a strong positive relationship between education and the value of the bride price.

A number of previous studies have examined the consequences of bride price values. In a recent working paper, Mbaye and Wagner (2013) examine over 2,000 respondents from eight regions in Senegal and find a significant negative relationship between higher bride price and fertility. This contrasts with our finding of no robust relationship between the value of the bride price and fertility. Although we estimated a positive relationship, the point estimates were generally not statistically different from zero. Along somewhat similar lines, the estimates from Mbaye and Wagner (2013) are only marginally significant and they are very small in magnitude. According to their estimates, if bride price increases by 100 per cent—a very large increase—fertility falls by only 0.04 children. Thus, taken together, our findings and the findings from Mbaye and Wagner (2013) seem to indicate that the value of the bride price appears to have no sizeable or robust relationship with fertility.

Although not the focus of their analysis, the study by Mbaye and Wagner (2013) also provides estimates of the relationship between bride price and a measure of appreciation of the wife by the husband. They find that a higher bride price is associated with less appreciation, although the coefficients are generally not statistically different from zero. This can be contrast to the spirit of our findings, which show a positive association between the value of the bride price and our different measures of the quality of the marriage.

The previous findings that are most directly comparable to the findings in this chapter are from qualitative studies. Comparing our findings to these studies, we find significant differences. For example, our findings that higher bride price is correlated with less acceptance of domestic violence, higher marriage quality, and greater happiness for women stand in stark contrast to the conclusions from casual observation or qualitative studies. A number of focus group and survey-based studies have shown that men and women tend to believe that the bride price results in less empowerment of women, worse marriages, and lower overall well-being. Results of this nature have been found in Uganda (Hague et al. 2011; Kaye et al. 2013) and Ghana (p.135) (Dery 2015; Horne et al. 2013). For example, in Hague et al. (2011), 84 per cent of 151 respondents reported that they believed that there was a strong connection between the value of the bride price and domestic violence.

There are many explanations for the differences in the findings. First, Africa is not a homogeneous unit. Thus, there could be significant heterogeneity across the large continent, which may result in differences in our relationships of interest. Thus, the effects of bride price may be different in the DRC than in Uganda, Kenya, or Ghana. A second possibility is that the actual effects of the bride price custom may be different from the perceived effects. Individuals observe the practice of the bride price, high levels of domestic violence, and low levels of female empowerment and may draw a link between them. Whether there is a general relationship in the data when looking across a large number of individuals is an empirical question. A third possibility stems from the fact that in qualitative studies participants’ answers must be interpreted, and this is done through the lens of the researcher. Thus, there is concern that the researcher’s prior assumptions affect the mapping that is made from statements in the focus groups to conclusions. Further, the presence of a researcher in the focus groups may affect the statements made by participants, and one worries, in particular, about ‘demand effects’, where participants are more likely to inadvertently (and without conscious realization) say what they feel the researcher wants to hear. This can be contrasted with surveys, which, though less rich in some dimensions, have the advantage that researchers are not present when the questions are answered. Instead, local enumerators ask the questions.

# 6. Conclusion

Bride price, which is payment from the groom and/or groom’s family to the bride’s family at the time of marriage, is an important cultural practice of many African societies. In recent years, there have been widespread concerns that the practice may have negative effects for women. One concern is that the monetary payment received by the bride’s family at marriage may incentivize early marriage, leading to higher fertility. It is also believed that it may promote the view that husbands have ‘purchased’ their wives, resulting in worse treatment of wives. In many locations, the bride price must be paid back to the groom’s family upon divorce. This may cause an obstacle to divorce and result in women being trapped in unhappy marriages. Thus, in general, there has been widespread concern that the practice is detrimental to the well-being of women.

In this chapter, we have used data related to these issues in an attempt to provide a better understanding of the potential effects of bride price. We did (p.136) this by examining the empirical relationship between bride price payments and various outcomes of interest, using a sample of 317 married couples from Kananga, a city located in the DRC, a setting where almost everyone pays a bride price and marriages are not recognized as legitimate unless a bride price is paid.

We found no evidence that a larger bride price payment is associated with earlier marriage or with higher fertility. We also found that larger bride price payments are associated with better-quality marriages as measured by beliefs about the acceptability of domestic violence, the frequency of engaging in positive activities as a couple, and the self-reported happiness of the wife. We also examined the correlates of the requirement for the bride price to be paid back upon divorce. Contrary to general concerns about this aspect of the custom, we found no evidence that this requirement is associated with women being less happy in their marriages. In fact, we found a positive association, although the coefficient was statistically insignificant. However, we did find that if the value of the bride price paid was very high (over US\$1,000), then the requirement is, in fact, negatively associated with the happiness of the wife.

Overall, we found that the evidence does not support the notion that the practice of bride price has detrimental effects on the well-being of married women. Perhaps surprisingly, in general, a higher bride price tends to be associated with good outcomes. The one exception is that the presence of a high bride price and the requirement for the bride price to be paid back upon divorce does appear to be associated with less happiness on the part of the wife.

We end by reminding the reader about an important caveat. Although informative and valuable, the relationships that we estimate cannot be taken as definitive evidence of the causal effect of high bride price and/or repayment requirements on women’s well-being. Despite our attempts to control for potentially omitted factors, it is very possible that they still influence the estimates and impeded our ability to interpret them as causal. However, we do feel that the estimates we report here lead one to pause and recognize the need for greater research to understand the causal effects of the custom, particularly given the calls to abolish the practice in many countries within Africa.

References

Bibliography references:

Adams, B.N., and E. Mburugu (1994). ‘Kikuyu Bridewealth and Polygyny Today’. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 25(2): 159–66.

Anderson, S. (2007). ‘The Economics of Dowry and Brideprice’. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 21(4): 151–74.

(p.137) Ashraf, N., N. Bau, N. Nunn, and A. Voena (2016). ‘Bride Price and Female Education’. Working Paper. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

Biryabarema, E. (2015). ‘Uganda Court Says Divorced Husbands Cannot Demand “Bride Price” Refund’. Reuters Africa, 6 August.

Bishai, D., and S. Grossbard (2010). ‘Far Above Rubies: Bride Price and Extramarital Sexual Relations in Uganda’. Journal of Population Economics, 23(4): 1177–87.

Borgerhoff Mulder, M. (1995). ‘Bridewealth and Its Correlates: Quantifying Changes Over Time’. Current Anthropology, 36(4): 573–603.

Chondoka, Y.A. (1988). Traditional Marriages in Zambia: A Study in Cultural History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Corno, L., and A. Voena (2016). ‘Selling Daughters: Age of Marriage, Income Shocks and the Bride Price Tradition’. Working Paper. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.

Corno, L., N. Hildebrandt, and A. Voena (2016). ‘Weather Shocks, Age of Marriage and the Direction of Marriage Payments’. Working Paper. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.

Dery, I. (2015). ‘Bride-Price and Domestic Violence: Empirical Perspectives from Nandom District in the North Western Region of Ghana’. International Journal of Development Sustainability, 4(3): 258–71.

Dudley, O. (2014). ‘Highlights of the Marriage Act, 2014’. Available at: http://kenyalaw.org/kenyalawblog/highlights-of-the-marriage-act-2014/ (accessed 5 June 2017).

Eryenyu, J. (2014). ‘Payment of Bride Price Turns Women into Commodities’. Daily Monitor. Available at: www.monitor.co.ug/OpEd/Letters/Payment-of-bride-price-turns-women-into-commodities/806314-2447104-n41iwj/index.html (accessed 5 June 2017).

Goldschmidt, W. (1974). ‘The Economics of Brideprice Among the Sebei and in East Africa’. Ethnology, 13(4): 311–31.

Government of Uganda (2001). A Compendium of Laws Relating to Domestic Relations in Uganda. Kampala: LDC Publishers.

Hague, G., R.K. Thiara, and A. Turner (2011). ‘Bride-price and its Links to Domestic Violence and Poverty in Uganda: A Participatory Action Research Study’. Women’s Studies International Forum, 34: 550–61.

Horne, C., F.N.-A. Dodoo, and N.D. Dodoo (2013). ‘The Shadow of Indebtedness: Bridewealth and Norms Constraining Female Reproductive Autonomy’. American Sociological Review, 78(3): 503–20.

IRIN News (2006). ‘Study Links Payment of Bride Price to Abuse of Women’. Available at: www.irinnews.org/report/59032/tanzania-study-links-payment-bride-price-abuse-women (accessed 5 June 2017).

Kaye, D.K., F. Mirembe, A.M. Ekstrom, G.B. Kyomuhendo, and A. Johansson (2013). ‘Implications of Bride Price on Domestic Violence and Reproductive Health in Wakiso District, Uganda’. African Health Sciences, 5(4): 300–3.

Kelly, A. (2006). ‘Why Girls are Economically Challenged’. The Guardian. Available at: www.theguardian.com/katine/2009/aug/17/money-women (accessed 5 June 2017).

Lowes, S. (2017). ‘Matrilineal Kinship and Spousal Cooperation: Evidence from the Matrilineal Belt’. Working Paper. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

Lowes, S. and N. Nunn (2017). ‘Bride Price and the Wellbeing of Women’. WIDER Working Paper 2017/131. Helsinki: UNU-WIDER.

(p.138) Mbaye, L.M., and N. Wagner (2013). ‘Bride Price and Fertility Decisions: Evidence from Rural Senegal’. Discussion Paper 7770. Bonn: IZA.

Mwesigwa, A. (2015). ‘Uganda Court Rules Against Refund of “Bride Price” After Divorce’. The Guardian, 17 August.

Tembo, S. (2014). ‘Court Warns Against High Bride Prices’. Times of Zambia, 3 May. Available at: www.times.co.zm/?p=21383 (accessed 5 June 2017).

Vansina, J. (1966). Introduction a l’Ethnographic du Congo. Kinshasa: Centre de Recherche et d’Information Socio-Politiques.

Vroklage, B. (1952). ‘Bride Price or Dower’. Anthropos, 47(1/2): 133–46.

## Notes:

(1) Cammie Curtin provided excellent research assistance. Sara Lowes acknowledges generous financial support from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, Harvard IQSS, and the Harvard Center for African Studies.

(2) The data were collected for a project on matrilineal kinship systems and intra-household bargaining (Lowes 2017).

(3) Village of origin is where an individual’s family originates and is not necessarily the same as village of birth.

(4) When wives are able to estimate the amount of bride price paid, the amounts of bride price paid reported by husbands and wives are highly correlated. However, women are more likely than men to report that they do not know the value of the bride price paid.

(5) This does not take into account stillbirths or children that have died subsequently. Almost 25% of the women in the sample have had at least one child die during its first year of life.

(6) The sample size falls from 317 to 315 due to non-response.

(7) An alternative strategy is to create indicator variables for the categories of the index. All conclusions we report here remain if we do this.