Max Radin has defined dowry as the property, which a man receives from his wife or her family at the time of his marriage. Dowry may be broadly defined as gifts and valuables received in marriage by the bride, the bridegroom and his relatives. The amount of dowry is regulated by factors like boy's service and salary, social and economic status of the girl's father, the social prestige of the boy's family, educational qualifications of the girl and the boy, girl's working and her salary, girl's and boy's beauty and features, future prospects of economic security, size and the composition of the girl's and boy's family and factors like that. What is significant is that girl's parents give her money and gifts not only at the time of her wedding but they continue to give gifts to her husband's family throughout the life. McKim Marriott holds that the feeling behind this is that one's daughter and sister at marriage become the helpless possession of an alien kinship group and to secure her good treatment, lavish hospitality must be offered to her in-laws from time to time.
One of the causes of dowry is the desire and aspiration of every parent to marry his daughter in a higher and a rich family to keep up or to add to his prestige and also to prove comforts and security to the daughter. The high marriage- market values of the boys belonging to rich and high social status families have swelled the amount of dowry.
Other cause of the existence of dowry is that giving dowry is a social custom and it is very difficult to change customs all of a sudden. The feeling is that practicing customs generates and strengthens solidarity and cohesiveness among people. Many people give and take dowry only because their parents and ancestors had been practicing it. Custom has stereotyped the old dowry system and till some rebellious youth muster courage to abolish it and girls resist social pressures to give it, people will stick to it.
Amongst Hindus, marriage in the same caste and sub-caste has been prescribed by the social and religious practices with the result that choice of selecting a mate is always restricted. This results in the paucity of young boys who have high salaried jobs or promising careers in the profession. They become scarce commodities and their parents demand huge amount of money from the girl's parents to accept her as their daughter-in-law, as if girls and chattel for which the bargain has to be made. Nevertheless, their scarcity is exacerbated and aggravated by the custom of marriage in the same caste.
A few people give more dowries just to exhibit their high social and economic status. Jains and Rajputs, for example, spend lakhs of rupees in the marriage of their daughters just to show their high status or keep their prestige in the society even if they have to borrow money.
The most important cause of accepting dowry by the grooms' parents is that they have to give dowry to their daughters and sisters. Naturally, they look to the dowry of their sons to meet their obligations in finding husbands for their daughters. For instance, an individual who may be against the dowry system is compelled to accept fifty to sixty thousand rupees in cash in dowry only because he has to spend an equal amount in his sister's or daughter's marriage. The vicious circle starts and the amount of dowry goes on increasing till it assumes a scandalous proportion.