Supply-and-demand demographics: Dowry, daughter aversion and marriage markets in contemporary north India

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The gendered character of India's fertility decline has attracted considerable academic attention. In this paper, I offer a critique of the arguments of some demographers about the linkages between dowry, daughter aversion and the marriage squeeze that predict that increasing shortages of marriageable women will result in declines in dowry. I argue that such economistic readings seriously oversimplify the complexities of marriage arrangement ‘on the ground’ in contemporary India. Further, whilst one aspect of dowry might relate to the supply and demand of brides and grooms, dowry and daughter aversion are not simply outcomes of demographics alone. First, marriage migration is crucial in understanding daughter aversion. Second, dowry is not just a matter of marriage and kinship practices. Dowry is a polyvalent institution that also connects with conspicuous display in status competition in a hierarchical society and with people's rising aspirations to possess consumer goods within the wider context of contemporary India's rapidly changing political economy. Crucially, marriage migration, status competition and consumerism do not necessarily push in the same direction as the demographics of the marriage squeeze might imply when it comes to dowry and daughter aversion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-188
Number of pages18
JournalContemporary South Asia
Issue number2
Early online date14 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014


  • dowry
  • consumerism
  • marriage migration
  • marriage squeeze
  • status competition


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