This study assesses the implications of a central component of African marriage, bridewealth, for norms constraining wives' reproductive autonomy. We treat norms as expectations regarding the reactions of community members to a wife. We hypothesize that bridewealth triggers the application of norms that constrain women's reproductive autonomy and that there are gender differences in those norms. We test our hypotheses using a vignette experiment conducted with male and female participants in Ghana. The results show that participants expected the husband's family and men in the community to react more negatively to a noncompliant wife than the wife's family and women in the community. Whereas men perceived that everyone in the community adhered to bridewealth norms, women expected that men did not adhere to those norms. Rather, female participants expected men to evaluate wives negatively, even for behaviors that are not traditionally associated with bridewealth, suggesting that women live in a more threatening environment than men realize. This study contributes to understanding of the gender dynamics underlying reproductive decision-making in marriage and has implications for the endemic problem of women's not having control over their own fertility.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Sociology and Political Science