ATTITUDES TOWARDS DOWRY ANNA MATHEW Legal efforts have failed to...
ATTITUDES TOWARDS DOWRY
Legal efforts have failed to combat the age old custom of dowry. In this study, the youth, who should be
the generators of change, have shown, on the contrary, a greater inclination towards dowry than their
parents. Because of the rise in material aspirations and expectations, they seem to have come to depend
heavily on the institution of dowry. It is only in the middle socio-economic status group that the students
have come out strongly against the practice of dowry. Education, which could have helped to remove this
evil, has failed to bring about an attitudinal change in the youth towards dowry.
Ms Anna Mathew is a member of the faculty, College of Social Work, Red Hills, Hyderabad-500 004.
Dowry, an age old custom in Indian society, has, of late, become an indispensable
ritual in marriage alliances. However, useful and essential the practice might have
been when it originated, it has become corrupted out of all proportion. Dowry, which
was earlier regarded as a token of love and affection, given by the girl's parents
according to their ability, has now become institutionalised as a right to be demanded
by the boy's parents. While the necessity for putting an end to this practice has been
recognised by many, studies show that legal efforts, culminating in the Dowry
Prohibition Act of 1961, have failed to combat this age old custom (Saini, 1983).
Therefore, it would seem that unless there is a radical change in our value system, this
problem of dowry will continue to exist. This process of change, naturally, must
originate from within the younger generation. If a definite change in their attitudes
towards dowry can be found (as compared to those of their parents), they may be
considered to be generators of change.
In this connection, a few empirical studies on the attitudes towards dowry have
already been made. Hooja (1969) has examined the attitudes of families belonging to
the three upper castes and those of the scheduled castes and backward classes.
According to her findings, the lower the levels of income and education, the greater
was the adherence to the custom of dowry. Khanna and Verghese (1978) have studied
the attitudes towards dowry of women belonging to different socio-economic strata.
The findings revealed that the lower stratum seemed to be more favourable to the
practice than the other two groups. Dowry practices among the urban poor were
examined by Luthra (1983). The attitudes expressed indicated that they did not view
dowry as a problem. Like any other expenditure, it pinched them, but this was
accepted since marriage was the only occasion where so much expenditure was
This paper is part of the author's doctoral research work. The author gratefully acknowledges the guidance
given by Dr. D. K. Laldas, Principal, College of Social Work, Hyderabad, in preparing this paper.
96 Anna Mathew
Other studies have shown that a high level of education, occupation, income and
liberal atmosphere of urban living (which may be considered as indicators of high
socio-economic status), would arouse consciousness among individuals to develop
unfavourable attitudes towards dowry. Ross (1955), Gore (1968) and Kuppuswamy
(1972) have felt that as the educated reflected more westernised outlook, it was
possible for the children to be more liberal in their attitudes and, consequentially,
reject the idea of dowry. Vanderveen (1972), in a study of marriage and hierarchy
among the Anavil Brahmins of South Gujarat, pointed out that girls with more
academic training brought in smaller dowries than girls with less extensive education.
The findings of Rao and Rao (1982), clearly show that students with a high
socio-economic status felt that dowry payment was an unimportant factor in settling
their marriages. In the same study, while breaking down the sample of father's
education into two categories—those whose father's education was till high school
or less, and those whose father's education was beyond high school education—a
strong negative relationship was indicated between parents' education and attitudes
towards the dowry of male and female students. Therefore, it was expected that
the student youth today, who are radically influenced by and more amenable
to social change, would be the potential generators of the attitudes to
disfavour the practice.
Parents have an important role to play in the continuance or elimination of this
practice. It is, however, difficult to discern whether the students with higher education
will exert any influence on the parents. For most parents, providing a suitable dowry
for a daughter is inseparable from marriage (Naik, 1986). Dowry demands have
increased significantly and have become a prestige issue (Rao and Rao, 1982). So
strong is the hold of the custom, that few fathers would hesitate to spend even beyond
their means to provide a befitting dowry to their daughters (kapadia, 1966). Parents
would like to give dowry to get a match for the girl, for her security and for setting her
up in her new home (Naik, 1986). Since most parents visualise the practice of dowry
as a universal problem, it was felt that there may not be a correlation between the
socio-economic status of the parents and their attitudes towards dowry.
In the literature reviewed so far, we do not find any detailed work on a comparative
study of the attitudes of the students and their parents. In order to obtain evidence,
some research work is needed. Hence, the study sought to compare the attitudes of
the students with those of their parents. More specifically, the following theoretical
hypotheses were formulated for the study:
1. The higher the socio-economic status of the students, the more unfavourable
their attitudes towards dowry.
2. The socio-economic status of the parents and their attitudes towards dowry
are positively correlated.
3. The attitudes of the students and the attitudes of the parents are significantly
Some of the terms used frequently, in this study, are explained below:
A culmination of beliefs which predispose one to respond in a preferential
manner, either favourably or unfavourably.
Attitudes towards Dowry 97
Favourable Attitudes Towards Dowry:
Attitudes which are in support of the
practice of dowry.
Unfavourable attitudes towards dowry:
Attitudes which disapprove of the practice
Socio-Economic Status (SES):
A combination of the social and economic positions
of the respondents which determine the respondent's status in society.
The study has been confined to post-graduate students, as it was expected that they
would be more mature, would have developed definite views on marriage and dowry,
and are eligible for and contemplating marriage.
A sample of 50 post-graduate students was drawn from the campus colleges
of Osmania University in the academic year 1983-84, following the systematic
random sampling method. The views of the students and their parents were obtained
through personal interviews, based on an interview schedule.
(a) Attitude Scale:
To assess the attitudes of the students and their
parents, a scale was formulated. The "attitudes towards dowry" scale consisted
of the following twelve items:
1. Dowry helps a boy and girl to settle down.
2. Dowry is an economic security for the bride.
3. Demanding dowry is exploiting the girl's family.
4. Dowry compensates for the groom's educational expenses.
5. A man who demands dowry goes against the ethics of the society.
6. Taking dowry can improve one's social and economic status.
7. Dowry, if not given, can cause marital unhappiness.
8. The bride's parents offer dowry because they think that the girl is a burden
9. Dowry is given to attract a better groom.
10. Dowry can ruin a family.
11. The practice of dowry is a social evil and should be put an end to.
12. Dowry is a share of the parental property and should not be forcefully
The Likert technique was applied. The points ranged from one to three. The response
categories used in the scale for this study were favourable, indifferent and
unfavourable. The composite weights of all these statements were taken to measure
the attitudes towards dowry. Lower scores on the scale were indicative of
unfavourable attitudes and vice versa. The scale was common to both the students
98 Anna Mathew
and their parents. The reliability co-efficient of the scales for the students and their
parents (Spearman Brown) were 0.51 (students) and 0.63 (parents) respectively.
(b) Socio-Economic Status Scale (SES Scale):
Six indicators were selected
to measure the SES of the respondents. These were:
1. Social Status
(i) Level of Education
(ii) Membership of associations
2. Economic Status
(i) Material possessions
Each indicator was measured on a scale ranging from zero to eight points. The
composite weights of all these indicators were taken to measure the level of the SES.
Lower scores on the scale were indicative of being in the lower SES and vice versa.
The scale was administered to parents. The reliability co-efficient of the scale
, (Spearman Brown) was 0.58.
The possible scores of the attitudes towards dowry of the students and the parents
ranged from 12 to 36. The score range obtained for the students was from 12.50 to
19.75 and for the parents was from 12.60 to 17.50. The mean score of the attitudes of
the students was 17.18 and 64 per cent of the students had scores below the mean
score. Similarly, the mean scores of the parents was 14.84 and 70 per cent of the
parents obtained scores below the mean score.
SUMMARY OF SCORE FOR THE MEASUREMENT OF ATTITUDES TOWARDS DOWRY
Attitudes towards Dowry 99
As seen in Table 1, the scores of the students and parents have been divided
into three groups of unfavourable, indifferent and favourable on the basis of
the values of first and third quartiles. Thirtysix per cent of the students scored
more than the value of the third quartile, whereas, only 30 per cent of the parents
scored at that level. When we examine the distribution on the basis of the first
quartile, we unexpectedly find, approximately, the same values for both the
groups—12,50 and 12.60 for the students and parents respectively.
The values of standard deviation and co-efficient of variation highlight the level
of attitudinal consistency and homogeneity in the scores of the students and
parents. The data revealed that the level of consistency and homogeneity was
higher among the parents than among the students.
SUMMARY OF SCORE FOR THE MEASUREMENT OF SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS
N = 50
The scores of the socio-economic status (SES) ranged from 15 to 44. The range of
scores obtained was from 25.12 to 35.85. The mean score for the SES was 31.80, and
58 per cent of the respondents had scores below the mean. The SES scores, which
were the same for both the groups, have been divided into three groups of low, middle
and high, on the basis of the values of the first and third quartiles. The values of the
standard deviation and co-efficient of variation showed that the group was
heterogeneous and diverse.
To test the first hypothesis, correlation between the scores of the SES and the
attitudes of the students was computed. The obtained results have been summarised
in Table 3.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS AND ATTITUDES TOWARDS DOWRY
Attitudes towards dowry
S P S P S P S P
11 6 2 4 7 10 20 20
3 5 2 5
4 4 6 4 5 7
18 15 10 13 22 22 50 50
S = Students P = Parents
Correlation coefficient (Pearson r) between SES and Attitudes of Students = 0.237 Significant (one-tailed test).
Correlation coefficient (Pearson r) between SES and Attitudes of Parents = 0.08 Not significant.
100 Anna Mathew
As illustrated by the results in Table 3, the correlation was significant (correlation
coefficient = 0.237—one-tailed test). It was, however, not in the expected direction.
It shows that the higher the SES, the more favourable their attitude towards dowry.
The data were further analysed to investigate the second hypothesis. The results in
Table 3 show clearly that the SES and the attitudes of the parents are not correlated.
To test that there is a significant difference in the attitudes of the students and parents
towards dowry, the 't' test was applied. The distribution of the mean attitude scores of
the students and parents is presented in Table 4.
It is clear from the Table that the mean attitude score of the students (17.18 ± 5.40) is
significantly higher than the mean attitude score of the parents (14.84 ± 3 . 2 8 ) ,
Contrary to the hypothesis that the higher the SES, the more unfavourable the
attitudes of the students, the data indicate that the majority of the students of the high
SES group were in favour of dowry. They felt that it was an important appendage of
marriage and that it helped a boy and girl to settle down. Some of them also opined
that dowry was a compensation for the groom's educational expenses. However,
two-thirds, of the students in the middle SES expressed their desire to put an end to
this practice as they felt it was against the ethics of society. In the low SES group,
particularly amongst the girls, an ambivalent attitude prevailed. Many of them felt that
while dowry was something unpleasant which was forced upon them, not giving
dowry might mean that they would remain unmarried and be a burden to their parents.
Furthermore, the results of Table 3 show that there is an insignificant correlation
between the SES and the attitudes of the parents. The findings reflect that SES has
failed to affect the attitudes of the parents toward dowry. The results in Table 4 clearly
indicate that there is a significant difference in the mean attitude scores of the
students and parents. One would have expected the post-graduate students, who
have had an exposure to liberal values and education, to hold the practice of dowry in
disfavour, but the opposite was found to be true. Instead of mitigating this evil,
education has only helped to perpetuate it.
Educated young men insist on fabulous sums of money as bridegroom price, and, in
almost all the cases, the amount of dowry is regulated by the educational qualification
of the bridegroom, along with his economic status and prestige (Kapadia, 1966). While
examining the dowry expectation of men with different educational background, it
was found that the mean value of the expected dowry increased with the prestige of
Attitudes towards Dowry 101
education. While foreign degrees drew the highest dowries, the Ph.D. degree
received lower dowries than engineering and medical degrees (Rao and Rao 1982).
Luthra (1983) revealed in her study that, as boys were becoming more educated, their
parents felt that it was their right to ask for more dowry in order to recover their
investment in the boy's education. With parents who had paid dowry for their
daughters, demanding the same for their sons, as a quid pro quo,
dowry as an
institution, has come to stay, and is even considered by many of the present
generation as a legitimate stepping stone to a higher socio-economic status. In a
society, which is becoming increasingly materialistic, where the accumulation of
wealth has replaced most other factors as a sure sign of success, the expectations and
aspirations of the youth have increased considerably. It would seem that many
of them are beginning to realise that one of the easiest ways to bridge the gap
between actual economic realities and inflated aspirations, is to demand more dowry
The attitude score results of the parent respondents were more homogeneous than
those of the student respondents. This indicates that the parents, who are more
directly exposed to the problems of dowry, have developed more uniformly
unfavourable attitudes towards dowry, as compared to the students.
That the parents had more unfavourable attitudes towards dowry is evident from the
difference in the mean attitude score. The mean attitude score of the students was
significantly higher than that of the parents. This may be due to the rise in the level of
material expectations in the youth over the recent past. With the rise in the material
aspirations and expectations, the youth have come to depend heavily on the
institution of dowry.
The findings in the study revealed that there was a positive correlation between SES
and attitudes towards dowry of the students. The higher the SES, the more favourable
the attitudes of the students towards dowry. While the majority of the students
belonging to the high SES supported the practice of dowry, a large percentage of the
students in the middle SES came out strongly against it. A significant proportion of the
students in the low SES, however, took a neutral stand. This tends to confirm the
widely held view that it is the middle class which is most affected by the practice of
dowry. Unlike other empirical studies (Hooja, 1969, Khanna and Verghese, 1978),
where the findings have revealed that the lower the levels of income, the greater the
adherence to the practice of dowry, this study shows that the higher the SES, the
greater the conformity to the practice of dowry.
The insignificant correlation between the SES of the parents and their attitudes
indicates that SES has not influenced their attitudes towards dowry. To a large extent,
they still seem to be conventional, bound by customs and traditions.
It is distressing to note that, in spite of higher education, students had more
favourable attitudes towards dowry. Higher education, received by the groom, has
increased the value of the dowry. Education, therefore, seems to have failed to
inculcate in the students a sense of values and ethics necessary for the eradication of
this evil. In the absence of these values and ethics, the practice of dowry is likely to
102 Anna Mathew
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