Marriage payments

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Duran Bell 07:40, 7 July 2008 (PDT)

I looked at the paper on the evolution of bridewealth and dowry. The authors work in the context of socio-biology and by using the Trivers notion of parental investment, believe that the direction of a transfer at marriage is the only thing that matters. So, none of the distinctions that one might make between gifts, payments, inheritance are relevant.

They are entirely wrong, of course. There is an enormous difference between dowry and groomwealth and between wealth and consumption goods. (Unfortunately, groomwealth is always coded as dowry, thereby assuring its ethnographic non-existence.) Moreover, the investment that might accompany a daughter is not usually an investment in her offspring, although that may be an unintended consequence. It is more generally made in order to achieve those goals of the parent's group that can be advanced if she and her husband are in a position to offer assistance. Hence, it is not clear that the reduction in the bride's family's resources will not be fully returned to the advantage of other siblings and her parents. In other words, dowry can easily be seen as an investment into the reproductive success and wellbeing of those whom she leaves behind, thereby contradicting the presumption of the authors regarding the consequence of the "direction of payment" for the reproductive success of various siblings.


Furthermore, we know that bridewealth is not extended for the sake of increasing the reproductive success of any individual but of the group to which he belongs. This is abundantly clear because the wealth that is thereby extended belongs to a group, not to the individual nor his nuclear family, but to a larger kingroup. A case in point, consider the effect of the levirate on this matter. Investment in a bride by the kingroup in order to deliver a bride to an old man is clearly not an investment in the reproductive success of that men but is instead an investment in the reproduction of the kin group within which the bride will be distribruted after the death of her elderly husband.

Socio-biological assumptions do not stand as a substitute for the study of culture.

My guess is that *groomwealth* might be ancestral to bridewealth! And that dowry comes later, as conventional theory asserts. I am not prepared to argue the ancestral position of groomwealth, but it would seem far more likely than a prior-to-bridewealth development of dowry. In saying this, I as assuming that a dowry is a gift of consumption durables from the kin and friends of the bride. But the authors fail to make a distinction between groomwealth and gifts from the bride's parents to the bride or to the domestic unit, so they have no potential of making the relevant discovery.

Links

Marriage payments project with Bell and White

Kinship and Complexity#Marriage Payments