Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Less Committed Marriage

Sometimes economists can see the trees of marginal individual advantage, but miss the forest of the human costs that seeking individual advantage imposes on others. A case is point is a new study by Penn economists Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson reported in the New York Times. Wolfers and Stevenson report approvingly that weakening marriage means that individuals don't lose so much if their "investment" doesn't bring all the rewards they wanted. They report that no-fault divorce has produced less committed marriages. They also calculate that no-fault also makes it 6 percent less likely that a couple will have a child. Overall, marriage rates are down.

Wolfers and Stevenson, themselves an unmarried and (I believe) childless couple, do not see these developments as weakening society, but as strengthening individuals in getting what they want.


Anonymous said...

"They report that no-fault divorce has produced less committed marriages. "

Still think civil unions rather than marriage are a good idea? :)

Betsey Stevenson said...

Oh my, how did you get to these conclusions from either the NYT article or my research? That unilateral divorce weakens investment in marriage is one of its disadvantages (i.e. a cost, a bad thing). That it reduces domestic violence is one of its advantages (i.e. a good thing). I'm not a policy maker, I'm a (social) scientist. I uncover causal relationships and present the facts about how unilateral divorce changes relationships. Now that you know the facts you can choose what type of divorce law that you would like to live under. (FYI, Revealed preference shows that most people find the benefits to be greater than the cost--very few people choose a covent marriages where choice is available.)

Renee said...

I followed the link from over from Opine. When I was married the last thing on my mind was divorce. I did have marriage prep from my church, but at the clerk's desk at city hall it was just one sheet with no disclaimers on what the divorce laws were and about a week prior to the wedding.

What is marriage? by Bai Mcfarland via feminine genius

"Cleveland 10/18/06 - Last weekend I was able to reach hundreds of
brides-to-be as they visited our exhibitor's booth in the Embassy
Suites Hotel in Independence, Ohio. Over 700 brides registered for the Today's Bride show and all of the attendees had to pass our
exhibit. My goal was to invite them to put the terms of their
Christian marriage promises in a signed agreement on their wedding
day and use constitutional law professor's "Covenant in Anticipation of Marriage" before their wedding.

Their attention was caught when I gave them our flyer that asked,
"Have you made arrangements for your written marriage agreement?" I told many, "This is what they don't tell you whey you get your state marriage license." Attendees could then either continue to read our
flyer, or look at our ugly sign, which spelled out the terms of the state marriage license agreement.

I love you, and want to marry you, temporarily. We will share our procreative powers to conceive and bear children until I feel like quitting. I may leave you with half our assets and take our children from you so they can see me without you around. I can leave you and the children financially destitute so I
can have a new sex partner. I can kick you out of the family home and make you pay tens of thousands of dollars, while I live here with someone else. If you expect to be married for life, you'll be found guilty
of insisting that I stay married to you when I don't want to. If you think adultery or abandonment is immoral, you can be reprimanded by judges. If you teach our children that I am doing something wrong, you can be penalized for alienating the children against me.

I've seen husbands and wives sacrifice themselves for family only to have the other spouse walk out with no punitive action taken against them by the government. I'm a stay at home mom with three kids five and under, and it amazes me with how much ease either myself or my husband could really umm... screw each other over royally.

Gruntled said...

As James Q. Wilson writes in The Marriage Problem, economists often err in thinking that marriage reveals preferences; marriage is one of the most powerful institutions that can change preferences.