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Historically, in most cultures, married women had very few rights of their own, being considered, along with the family's children, the property of the husband; as such, they could not own or inherit property, or represent themselves legally (see for example coverture). In Europe, the United States, and a few other places, from the late 19th century throughout the 21st century, marriage has undergone gradual legal changes, aimed at improving the rights of women. These changes included giving wives a legal identity of their own, abolishing the right of husbands to physically discipline their wives, giving wives property rights, liberalizing divorce laws, and requiring a wife's consent when sexual relations occur.
These changes have occurred primarily in Western countries. In the 21st century, there continue to be controversies regarding the legal status of married women, legal acceptance or leniency towards violence within marriage (especially sexual violence), traditional marriage customs such as dowry and bride price, forced marriage, marriageable age, and criminalization of consensual behaviors such as premarital and extramarital sex.