Review of Economics of the Household

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 287–321 | Cite as

Dowry in the absence of the legal protection of women’s inheritance rights

  • Momoe MakinoEmail author


The practice of dowry is often thought to be the root cause of the unequal treatment of girls in India, as represented by sex-selective abortion and female infanticide. This is because the prospect of burdensome dowry payments in future makes the birth of a girl child unwelcome. For adult women without inheritance rights, however, dowry may function as their only source of protection. Using a nationwide dataset and exploiting a natural experimental setting, this study explores the relationship between dowry and women’s empowerment in India, a society where women do not have inheritance rights, and thus do not usually possess immovable assets. In such a society, dowry seems to enhance women’s status in the marital household. The relationship reverses when women have equal inheritance rights as their brothers. Empirical analysis suggests that the outright ban on dowry that ignores the context may not necessarily benefit women. It also implies that dowry may become unnecessary and disappear once women are assured of inheritance rights.


Dowry Women’s empowerment Inheritance rights Amendment India 

JEL classification

J12 J16 K11 N35 Z13 



I am grateful to Claus Pörtner for his advice and guidance throughout the development of this paper. I owe thanks to Shelly Lundberg, Seik Kim, Aimee Chin, and seminar participants at the University of Washington for their insightful suggestions. I am very grateful to two anonymous referees for comments on the early version of the paper. I greatly appreciate the financial support from the Department of Economics at the University of Washington, the James K. and Vilola M. Hall Fellowship, and the Grover and Creta Ensley Fellowship in Economic Policy. Any errors, omissions, or misrepresentations are, of course, my own.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Developing EconomiesChibaJapan

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