A sum of money, land, livestock or other assets given to the family of a bride in some cultures is known as a bride price or bride wealth. This tradition was common in many cultures, including early biblical societies, and it continues to endure in some nations around the world, often in a token form. A bride price is not the same thing as a dowry; a dowry is given to the family of a groom by the family of the bride, and a dower is a gift from a groom to a bride, traditionally offered on the wedding day or shortly thereafter.
The tradition of a bride price might seem archaic to some people, while others believe that it served and continues to serve some valuable functions in the cultures where the tradition is used. In the first place, it associates value with women and brides by forcing grooms and their families to give something up to marry a desired woman. In some cultures, the price was also intended to compensate for the loss of a valuable female worker around the house. In addition, it may be an important part of religious expression and traditional marriage negotiations.
The Bible includes several references to this tradition, as do many other religious texts. By tradition, the bride's family sets the bride price, although some careful negotiations are involved to ensure that the price is not greedy or usurious. In modern times, some concerns have been raised about families essentially selling their daughters for their bride prices, often at a very young age. This has led to bans on this tradition in some regions, in the interest of protecting women. In other countries, the bride price may be token, rather than serious; the groom's family might give flowers to the family of the bride, for example, or donate goods and services to a charity in the name of the bride.
In some cases, compensation for a bride may also include brideservice, services undertaken for the family of the bride by the groom. Brideservice can be seen in many Western nations, although it may not be specifically identified; a groom might, for example, participate in charities which the bride favors in order to demonstrate his commitment to her.
In cultures which still practice the tradition of a bride price, the families of the bride and groom generally meet to discuss the price. Several factors go into a bride price including the desirability of the bride, skills and talents she may have, and current market trends. Once the two agree on the sum and the deal is sealed, the bride and groom are considered engaged, and entertainments of other offers are considered gauche. If the engagement is broken, the family is expected to return it, less any dowries paid.