THE PRICE OF SILENCE: New evidence on marriage transfers and women’s attitude toward intimate partner violence

The value of the dower traditionally paid in Jordan by the husband (groom) to the wife (bride) for the marriage increases her probability of justifying intimate partner violence, according to research by Suzanna Khalifa. Women receiving a higher payment from their husband at the moment of the marriage are more likely to declare that it’s justified for a husband to beat his wife when she does not behave in the prevailing traditional gender role. 

Recent qualitative studies have shown that the prevalence of intimate partner violence in the Middle East is accompanied by the persistence of stereotypes and norms that encourage the acceptance and use of violence against women. Focusing on attitudes and beliefs is not only a powerful tool in tackling intimate partner violence, but also an essential component of women empowerment and agency.

While existing research focuses on identifying individual factors of vulnerability toward intimate partner violence, this study is innovative in questioning what cultural and institutional factors contribute to shape individual beliefs about intimate partner violence. 

In Jordan, the civil code requires the husband to pay the wife a dower, a traditional sum of money, to validate the union and the marriage. Although this practice has been the source of debate among the public and has been criticised by feminist movements, this study looks for the first time at the quantitative impact of this marriage tradition on women's individual beliefs about intimate partner violence.


This study exploits an innovative and recent (2016) Jordanian database providing individual information on the value of the amount received by each woman at marriage. In practice, families agree on the amount to be paid during the initial stages of negotiation and matching between spouses. According to the data, the value of the transfer represents about half a year's worth of resources for a household, which makes it a non-negligible form of ownership for women. 

The questionnaire includes a section asking whether she finds it justified that a husband beats his wife in six different situation: when she burns food, neglects children, wastes money, talks to another man, refuses sex or argues with him. After a rigorous estimation of the impact of dower on women's responses, the main result of the study is that a 20% increase in the dower lead to more than 8% increase in the probability that a woman justifies intimate partner violence in at least one situation described above.

Two main explanation are documented and explored in the study:  

  • A higher perceived amount of money exerts a greater psychological pressure on women to behave in the way society traditionally expects them to behave. The payment could be perceived as a transfer/purchase of the woman's rights by her husband and impose internalised normative constraints on her.
  • Because the law authorises unilateral divorce to the woman under the condition of repaying the sums received at the moment of the marriage, a larger dower can represent a barrier to escape from an unhappy marriage. 


Additional results show that the value of the dower does not affect woman’s attitude towards intimate partner violence among women who ever worked or declared having savings. This result, coupled with qualitative information from anthropological research, points to two main interrelated angles in terms of public policy.

A first would be to make women's access to unilateral divorce unconditional on repayment of the dower. A second aspect would be to focus on the way the dower is traditionally spent: shift the usual purchases of consumables (new household supplies for the bride) to durable goods such as jewellery (gold) in order to save the dower value as an asset. 



Contact details: 

Suzanna Khalifa
Aix Marseille School of Economics
Website: Personal page
Phone: +33658832166
Twitter: @khalifa_suzanna