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When families give dowry, they not only ensure their daughter's economic security, they also "buy" the best possible husband for her, and son-in-law for themselves.
Even in the oldest available records, such as the Code of Hammurabi in ancient Babylon, the dowry is described as an already-existing custom.
Dowries continue to be expected, and demanded as a condition to accept a marriage proposal, in some parts of the world, mainly in parts of Asia, Northern Africa and the Balkans.
In some parts of the world, disputes related to dowry sometimes result in acts of violence against women, including killings and acid attacks.
In contrast, plough agriculture is associated with private property and marriage tends to be monogamous, to keep the property within the nuclear family.
A dowry may also have served as a form of protection for the wife against the possibility of ill treatment by her husband and his family, providing an incentive for the husband not to harm his wife.
A wife’s dowry was administered by her husband as part of the family assets.
He had no say, however, in its ultimate disposal; and legally, the dowry had to be kept separate for it was expected to support the wife and her children.
Goody has demonstrated a historical correlation between the practices of "diverging devolution" (dowry) and the development of intensive plough agriculture on the one hand, and homogenous inheritance (brideprice) and extensive hoe agriculture on the other.
Drawing on the work of Ester Boserup, Goody notes that the sexual division of labour varies in intensive plough agriculture and extensive shifting horticulture.