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Citation Information

Type Working Paper
Title Evolution of Mehr and Dowry among Muslims in Bangladesh: Evidence from Natural Experiments
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2015
URL http://www.isid.ac.in/~epu/acegd2015/papers/ShyamalChowdhury.pdf
In this paper, we exploit a natural experiment to explain the fluctuations in the value of mehr and dowry
observed since 1960s in Muslim marriages in Bangladesh. We show that these fluctuations are explained by the
Green Revolution (GR) in the 1960s, the Independence War (IW) in 1971 and the famine in 1974. The positive
income shock due to the GR increased the values of both dowry and mehr. However, the specific technologies
adopted due to the GR also increased the demand for, and consequently the shadow price of, female labor within the
household, which exerted downward pressure on the value of dowry. Therefore, the net effect on dowry was
ambiguous. In contrast, the negative income effect of the war and famine had decreased the values of both dowry
and mehr, and their values remained at lower levels in the absence of further shocks. Using two unique household
survey datasets, we find support for our hypotheses. There were some important legal changes in Bangladesh to
restrict polygamy and curb the practice of dowry that coincided with the GR and famine. To show that these legal
changes have no effect on the values of dowry and mehr, we exploit another natural experiment from the Indian
state of West Bengal that experienced similar economic shocks but no legal changes. These results have important
implications in that natural shocks may influence the evolution of social institutions in eminent ways.

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