Paying someone to marry your daughter? I can only presume it has something to do with the economic circumstances of marriage in some societies. But what exactly? Considering that in other societies, a bride is commodity that the groom has to pay for, what makes the difference?
In a society where a woman is not allowed to fully participate, she’s an economic drain on her family. You have to clothe her, feed her, house her. In return you get a son, if you’re lucky. Basically, you’re talking the girl off her parents’ hands and assuming economic responsibility for her.
You’ll find the opposite, bride prices, in times and prices where women are scarce, such as where childbirth deaths are common. Where men are more scarce, such as any society at war, you’ll find dowries, and maybe even polygyny.
Yeah, it ain’t fair. But it’s only logical if you don’t view marriage as a romantic insititution, and don’t allow women to make money.
In strictly economic terms, a dowry might also be conceived of as a sort of “advance on inheritance.” The parents of the bride presumably want to set their daughter up in a comfortable married life, and they presumably want grandchildren, and want them provided for. A dowry helps the bride and groom get their start in life, without having to wait for the bride’s parents to pass away. Why no reciprocal dowry for the groom? Because in a pre-feminist society, the groom would be expected to contribute by being the sole breadwinner. All of this applies only at the middle-class level or higher – working-class families would have no property with which to dower their daughter, and she probably would be expected to earn a second income to make ends meet.
How many women though, nowadays, actually have dowries? I thought it went out of fashion years ago (well, except for your more developing nations, or traditional societies).
Also, in a lot of cultures, the dowry is the woman’s property, not her husband’s, (and sometimes the only thing the woman does own) and if the husband and wife divorce, he has to pay her back her dowry. It’s a way to support the woman, should the husband get rid of her.
In olden days, the value of a man’s life was inherently more valuable than that of a woman, therefore, the man’s parents were entitled to be compensated for the loss of their son through marriage.
It could also (as above) be part of the woman’s inheritance, or IOW her share of the family property. Sons usually got the land, so daughters got money or movable items such as furniture.
Come to think of it, even today we have the tradition of the bride’s family paying the (often considerable) cost of the wedding celebration. And we also still have the custom of the bridal shower, where the bride receives gifts from her friends of domestic items she will presumably need to set up house: cooking equpment, a china set, linens, etc. Not a dowry as such, but more of a “completely equipped homemaker” kit.