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For Better and for Worse - How Unpaid Bride Wealth provides Security


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  • Hans Hoogeveen

    (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

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    The obligation to pay bride wealth at marriage is usually associated with thecontinuation of the lineage or considered a compensation for the loss of laborfor the family that provides the bride. In this paper a different interpretationis advanced. The obligation to pay of bride wealth is seen as informal insurancewhich relies on the fact that bride wealth liabilities are contingent claims.Empirical evidence from Zimbabwe is presented to support this claim. In theabsence of formal insurance mechanisms, bride wealth qualifies as an importantsecurity enhancing institution: the arrangement covers nearly the completeZimbabwean adult population and permits to pool risks between many differentfamilies. Additionally the amounts involved are large and the period of timeduring which the claims provide security long. Like any informal insurancearrangement, the marriage system is prone to failure as a result of covariantrisk and information and enforcement problems. It is shown how the marriageprocedure deals with these problems.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Tinbergen Institute in its series Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers with number 00-079/2.

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    Date of creation: 09 Oct 2000
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    Handle: RePEc:dgr:uvatin:20000079

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    Keywords: Risk; Insurance; Institutions; Bride Wealth; Africa;

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    1. Gauthier, Celine & Poitevin, Michel & Gonzalez, Patrick, 1997. "Ex Ante Payments in Self-Enforcing Risk-Sharing Contracts," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 76(1), pages 106-144, September.
    2. Kinsey, Bill & Burger, Kees & Gunning, Jan Willem, 1998. "Coping with drought in Zimbabwe: Survey evidence on responses of rural households to risk," World Development, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 89-110, January.
    3. Jonathan S. Skinner, 1987. "Risky Income, Life Cycle Consumption, and Precautionary Savings," NBER Working Papers 2336, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Timothy Besley, 1995. "Nonmarket Institutions for Credit and Risk Sharing in Low-Income Countries," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 9(3), pages 115-127, Summer.
    5. Stefan Dercon, 2000. "Income risk, coping strategies and safety nets," Economics Series Working Papers, University of Oxford, Department of Economics WPS/2000-26, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    6. Scoones, Ian, 1992. "The economic value of livestock in the communal areas of southern Zimbabwe," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 39(4), pages 339-359.
    7. Udry, Christopher, 1990. "Credit Markets in Northern Nigeria: Credit as Insurance in a Rural Economy," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, World Bank Group, vol. 4(3), pages 251-69, September.
    8. Arnott, Richard & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1991. "Moral Hazard and Nonmarket Institutions: Dysfunctional Crowding Out or Peer Monitoring?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 81(1), pages 179-90, March.
    9. Ravallion, Martin, 1996. "Famines and economics," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1693, The World Bank.
    10. Coate, Stephen & Ravallion, Martin, 1993. "Reciprocity without commitment : Characterization and performance of informal insurance arrangements," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 1-24, February.
    11. Jean-Philippe Platteau, 1997. "Mutual insurance as an elusive concept in traditional rural communities," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 33(6), pages 764-796.
    12. Binswanger, Hans P & McIntire, John, 1987. "Behavioral and Material Determinants of Production Relations in Land-Abundant Tropical Agriculture," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 36(1), pages 73-99, October.
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