Volume 50 - Article 46 | Pages 1353–1386  

Between money and intimacy: Brideprice, marriage, and women’s position in contemporary China

By Yifeng Wan


Background: Brideprice – a transfer from the groom’s to the bride’s family as part of the marriage process – has been a prominent element of marriage and kinship systems in many societies. While brideprice has declined as many countries modernize, the amount of brideprice has increased in China.

Objective: This study examines how the meanings attributed to brideprice payments at the time of marriage shape brideprice repayments at the time of divorce, focusing on two frames of brideprice: an interfamily compensation for female labor and fertility, and an intergenerational endowment for the newlyweds.

Methods: This study uses a unique data set containing over 100,000 court decisions involving brideprice disputes to estimate fractional regression models.

Results: Brideprice repayment ratios are consistently higher for brideprice as compensation than for brideprice as endowment. Brideprice repayment ratios are higher in cases where the bride has undergone an abortion or has childbearing experience, resides in a rural area, or ends an engagement without registering the marriage.

Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that, unlike trends in many other societies, the traditional practice of brideprice in China has not declined. Instead, both the amounts involved in brideprice payments and the ratios of brideprice repayments upon dissolution have seen an increase. The intersection of brideprice type and rural/urban residence substantially shapes the repayment of brideprice upon a relationship’s dissolution, whether through breakup or divorce.

Contribution: This study presents new data on brideprice payments and repayments, demonstrating that the two types of brideprice parallel in contemporary China. It also contributes to our understanding of how various factors influence the outcomes of brideprice return in court proceedings.

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