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Terror as a Bargaining Instrument: A Case Study of Dowry Violence in Rural India

  • Francis Bloch
  • Vijayendra Rao

The authors examine how domestic violence may be used as a bargaining instrument, to extract larger dowries from a spouse's family. The phrase"dowry violence"refers not to the paid at the time of the wedding, but to additional payments demanded by the groom's family after the marriage. The additional dowry is often paid to stop the husband from systematically beating the wife. The authors base their case study of three villages in southern India on qualitative and survey data. Based on the ethnographic evidence, they develop a noncooperative bargaining and signaling model of dowries and domestic violence. They test the predictions from those models on survey data. They find that women whose families pay smaller dowries suffer increased risk of marital violence. So do women who come from richer families (from whom resources can more easily be extracted). Larger dowries - as well as greater satisfaction with the marriage (in the form of more male children) - reduce the probability of violence. In India marriage is almost never a matter of choice for women, but is driven almost entirely by social norms, and parental preferences. Providing opportunities for women outside of marriage and the marriage market would significantly improve their well-being by allowing them to leave an abusive husband, or find a way of"bribing"him to stop the abuse, or present a credible threat, which has the same effect.

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 92 (2002)
Issue (Month): 4 (September)
Pages: 1029-1043

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:92:y:2002:i:4:p:1029-1043
Note: DOI: 10.1257/00028280260344588
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  1. Chwe, Michael Suk-Young, 1990. "Why Were Workers Whipped? Pain in a Principal-Agent Model," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 100(403), pages 1109-21, December.
  2. McElroy, Marjorie B & Horney, Mary Jean, 1981. "Nash-Bargained Household Decisions: Toward a Generalization of the Theory of Demand," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 22(2), pages 333-49, June.
  3. Alderman, Harold, et al, 1995. "Unitary versus Collective Models of the Household: Is It Time to Shift the Burden of Proof?," World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 10(1), pages 1-19, February.
  4. Farmer, Amy & Tiefenthaler, Jill, 1996. "Domestic Violence: The Value of Services as Signals," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(2), pages 274-79, May.
  5. Robert A. Pollak, 2002. "An Intergenerational Model of Domestic Violence," NBER Working Papers 9099, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Rao, V., 1991. "A hedonic Analysis of Dowry in Rural India," University of Chicago - Economics Research Center 91-6, Chicago - Economics Research Center.
  7. Manser, Marilyn & Brown, Murray, 1980. "Marriage and Household Decision-Making: A Bargaining Analysis," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 21(1), pages 31-44, February.
  8. Lundberg, S. & Pollak, R.A., 1991. "Separate Spheres Bargaining and the Marriage Market," Discussion Papers in Economics at the University of Washington 91-08, Department of Economics at the University of Washington.
  9. Tauchen, Helen V & Witte, Ann Dryden & Long, Sharon K, 1991. "Domestic Violence: A Nonrandom Affair," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 32(2), pages 491-511, May.
  10. Rao, Vijayendra, 1993. "The Rising Price of Husbands: A Hedonic Analysis of Dowry Increases in Rural India," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(4), pages 666-77, August.
  11. Helen V. Tauchen & Ann Dryden Witte & Sharon K. Long, 1985. "Domestic Violence: A Non-random Affair," NBER Working Papers 1665, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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