More Ladies Choosing to Be Old Maids

n_folbre_2Oh Nancy Folbre, how I love thee economic analysis, let me count the ways… Professor Folbre recently wrote a column in the New York Times about the declining demand for husbands due to some economic circumstances changing rapidly while others are remaining sticky (the gross economics term for difficult to change), leading to undesirable or inefficient outcomes, and ultimately a decline in women’s preference for marriage. Go read it right now. And then go read this really hilarious Jezebel piece about it by Erin Gloria Ryan with lines like, “husbands are suddenly a crappier deal for women than cronuts.”

The overall jist of the argument is that marriage used to be a good deal for women when they had very constrained economic opportunities and thus received significant economic benefit from marrying a partner who could support them. But now as women’s economic opportunities have expanded significantly, they no longer need the financial support of marriage. And furthermore, in an NBER paper by Marianne Bertrand, Jessica Pan and Emir Kamenica that Folbre cites, gender roles are sticky. So it seems as though many men still want to rely on their wives to be primary homemakers and child caretakers, whether or not their wives are working. This is a bad deal for women, and could be at least part of the reason that fewer Americans are married today than were 50 years ago. As Ryan writes on Jezebel,”If the women are winning all the bread AND having children AND being expected to clean up after the children, then what’s the point of having a man around? It’s like ‘THE SECOND SHIFT‘ NEVER GOT WRITTEN.”

But Folbre fairly notes that sometimes applying economic analysis to things like marriage (which we like to think is based on love in the modern era) is not the complete story, but economics can be useful to understand some trends like those she describes. She concludes optimistically,”as same-sex couples have profoundly demonstrated, the demand for marriage is not based on some natural sexual division of labor, but on the desire to give personal commitments public recognition… Men and women who get this point probably enjoy a distinct advantage in finding a partner, whether or not they are lucky enough to achieve long-run equilibrium with someone they love.”

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Categories: Means of Reproduction, Means of Reproduction-1

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