AskDefine | Define dowry

Dictionary Definition

dowry n : money or property brought by a woman to her husband at marriage [syn: dowery, dower]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. Property or payment brought by a wife or her family to a husband at the time of marriage. (In some cultures, it is the husband who pays the dowry to the wife’s family.)

Related terms


property or payment brought by a wife

Extensive Definition

A dowry (also known as trousseau) is the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings to her husband in marriage.
The opposite direction, property given to the bride by the groom, is called dower or mahr. Normally the bride would be entitled to her dowry in event of her widowhood, prior to the evolution of her dower rights; so common was this that the terms "dowry" and "dower" are sometimes confused.
The dowry should not be confused with a bride price, money or goods paid by the prospective groom to the bride's parents in exchange for her hand in marriage.


It is described in the oldest records, such as the Code of Hammurabi as a pre-existing custom, prescribing only regulations for how it was to be handled and also included regulations for a bride price. If a woman died without sons, her husband had to refund the dowry but could deduct the value of the bride price; the dowry would normally have been the larger of the sums. It marks the first record of long-lasting customs, such as the wife being entitled to her dowry at her husband's death as part of her dower, her dowry being inheritable only by her own children, not by her husband's children by other women, and a woman not being entitled to a (subsequent) inheritance if her father had provided her dowry in marriage.

In Europe

In Homeric times, the usual Greek practice was to give a brideprice, and dowries were also exchanged in the later classical time (5th century BC). Ancient Romans also practiced dowry, though Tacitus notes that the Germanic tribes practiced the reverse custom of the dower.
Dowry was widely practiced in Europe at all times. In Victorian England, it was seen as an early payment of her inheritance, such that only daughters who had not received their dowry were entitled to part of the estate when their parents died, and if the couple died without children, the dowry was returned to the bride's family.
Failure to provide a customary, or agreed-upon, dowry could call off a marriage. William Shakespeare made use of this in King Lear: one of Cordelia's wooers ceases to woo her on hearing that King Lear will give her no dowry. And in Measure for Measure, Claudio and Juliet's premarital sex was brought about by their families' wrangling over dowry after the betrothal, and Angelo's motive for forswearing his betrothal with Mariana is the loss of her dowry at sea. Folklorists often interpret the fairy tale Cinderella as the competition between the stepmother and the stepdaughter for resources, which may include the need to provide a dowry. Gioacchino Rossini's opera La Cenerentola makes this economic basis explicit: Don Magnifico wishes to make his own daughters' dowry larger, to attract a grander match, which is impossible if he must provide a third dowry.
One common penalty for the kidnapping and rape of unmarried women was that the abductor or rapist had to provide the woman's dowry, which was until the late 20th century the wreath money, or the breach of promise.
Providing dowries for poor women was regarded as a form of charity. The custom of Christmas stockings springs from a legend of St. Nicholas, in which he threw gold in the stockings of three poor sisters, thus providing for their dowries. St. Elizabeth of Portugal and St. Martin de Porres were particularly noted for providing such dowries, and the Archconfraternity of the Annunciation, a Roman charity dedicated to providing dowries, received the entire estate of Pope Urban VII.
In some parts of Europe, land dowries were common. In Grafschaft Bentheim, for instance, it was not uncommon for people who had no sons to give a land dowry to their new son-in-law with the condition that the groom would take the surname of his bride. The Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay), which is one of the biggest cities in the world, was given as a dowry by the Portuguese crown to the British when H.M. Charles II King of England, Scotland and Ireland married Catherine of Braganza, a princess of Portugal in 1661.
In some cases, nuns would be required to bring a dowry when joining a convent.
In Europe and Western culture in general it is still common for the bride's family to pay for the majority of the wedding costs.

In India

Though dowry was considered one of the chief reasons for female infanticide, recent studies have more to say.
In India, the practice is still very common, in arranged marriages and in rural areas as it is widely recognized as a Traditional Ritual of Marriage. Demanding dowry is prohibited by law as of 1961 but these laws are highly misused, including mothers and sisters being arrested without investigation. More information can be found by searching for the phrase "IPC 498a." In spite of refusing to be part of dowry systems many grooms have been brought to grief.
The practice of the bride giving a dowry to the groom is said to have originated in the system of recognition that not only the husband was responsible for providing for his wife, but her father shared this responsibility. It is not clear when the practice began in India. In the recent times, as women have better economic opportunities, this tradition no longer holds valid. While the burden is removed from a woman's father and brothers, it still remains with the husband. In India the practice of giving women a dowry on breakage of marriage by husband still holds and is assisted by the judiciary and the police through threat of imprisonment. Many times the transaction never ends; the women can come back to the courts for more dowry if she feels like it
What began sharing of the economic burden of protector and provider role between the two families in an essentially agricultural economy, today has degenerated into gifts of gold, clothes, consumer durables, and large sums of money, in a few rare cases impoverished or heavily indebted poor families. The dowry is often used by the receiving family for business purposes, family members' education, or given to the husband's sisters again mostly as dowry in their marriage. Unfortunately, many times the bride’s family are unable to continuously provide such gifts to the groom’s (depending on whether or not the groom will continue to ask for gifts) after the wedding. Therefore, the bride’s family will disown her because they can not afford her and eventually, the groom will no longer “want” her.
To curb the practice of dowry, the government of India made several laws providing for severe punishment to anyone demanding dowry. While these laws give relief to a woman and her family, at the same time it also puts a man and his family at great risk. Misuse of this law by women in urban India and many incidents of extortion of money from the husband done by the wife and her family have come to light. NRIs, IITians, IIMites, IT professionals, businessmen, CAs, and other affluent groups are very prone to face misuse of anti-dowry law. The law allows the jailing of any person the wife names in a written complaint, without any investigation. The elderly and children have been jailed by misuse of this law. Several human-right organizations have come up against the misuse of law. One of the most popular is Save Family Foundation (


dowry in German: Mitgift
dowry in Spanish: Dote
dowry in Esperanto: Doto
dowry in Persian: جهیزیه
dowry in French: Dot
dowry in Croatian: Miraz
dowry in Italian: Dote
dowry in Hebrew: נדוניה
dowry in Malayalam: സ്ത്രീധനം
dowry in Dutch: Bruidsschat
dowry in Japanese: 持参金
dowry in Norwegian: Medgift
dowry in Polish: Posag
dowry in Portuguese: Dote
dowry in Russian: Приданое
dowry in Serbian: Мираз
dowry in Finnish: Myötäjäiset
dowry in Swedish: Hemgift
dowry in Turkish: Çeyiz
dowry in Ukrainian: Придане

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

ability, appanage, bump, caliber, capability, capacity, dot, dower, endowment, equipment, faculty, flair, forte, foundation, genius, gift, instinct, investment, jointure, legal jointure, long suit, makings, marriage portion, metier, natural endowment, natural gift, parts, portion, potential, power, powers, qualification, settlement, speciality, strong flair, strong point, talent, talents, the goods, the stuff, thirds, what it takes
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