A shifting perspective on the meaning of marriage changed the dowry’s meaning. Early dowries were presented to the wife’s family. Each family was an independent economical unit; marrying off a daughter meant losing a productive worker. Dowries softened the loss. In the Bible, Jacob worked a total of fourteen years to compensate his father-in-law Laban for his two daughters, Leah and Rachel.
Later on, when the new couple was no longer absorbed into the husband’s family clan, but set out on their own, the dowry’s use changed. The bride’s side contributed goods to furnish the new couple’s household. Lump sums and years of support eventually served as ways for families to entice sought after sons-in-law.
Vestiges of the dowry remain in some modern weddings. In many contemporary weddings, the bride’s side still pays for the bulk of the ceremony and reception.