From: Lisa Dusseault (email@example.com)
Date: Fri Dec 01 2000 - 13:54:12 PST
Gotta love Landsburg:
Why Men Pay To Stay Married
And women pay to get divorced.
By Steven E. Landsburg
Steven E. Landsburg is the author, most recently, of Fair Play: What Your
Child Can Teach You About Economics, Values, and the Meaning of Life. You
can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted Friday, Dec. 1,
2000, at 9:30 a.m. PT
In the year following a divorce, women's living standards fall by 27 percent
while men's living standards rise by 10 percent. So says a widely quoted
study by the Social Science Research Council. Feminist groups have leapt to
the conclusion that divorce laws are unfair to women. When I first saw the
numbers, I leapt to a different conclusion: Marriage is unfair to men. After
all, a man who stays married is forced to sacrifice 10 percent of what he
could achieve on his own.
On reflection, I think both I and the feminists ought to have looked at a
little economics before we leapt. Both they and I had forgotten that prices
indicate value. If men stay in marriages that cost them a lot of money, that
just proves they really like being married. They're getting something they
value, and they're paying for it. Nothing unfair about that.
One could make a similar argument about women: A woman who takes a big
financial hit to get divorced must really hate being married, so the
conclusion is that marriage makes women unhappy. That argument is weak
because not all divorces are voluntary on the woman's part. But here's a
much stronger argument: Married men, in effect, pay their wives to stick
around (by acquiescing to a lifestyle where the wife gets to consume more
than she could earn on her own). Why would you pay a woman to stay married
unless you were pretty sure she considered marriage unpleasant?
Take an example. Mrs. Smith, if divorced, could spend, say, $20,000 a year.
Mr. Smith agrees to let her spend $25,000 a year, even though he himself is
living below the standard he could achieve on his own. Why would he agree to
that? It's got to be because a) he likes having Mrs. Smith around; and b) he
believes Mrs. Smith would leave him without the $5,000 premium. So what the
statistics tell us is not that divorce is unfair to women and not that
marriage is unfair to men, but that men enjoy being married and women don't.
Of course there are myriad exceptions to those rules, just as there are
myriad exceptions to the rule that a newly divorced woman's living standard
goes down by 27 percent. That figure is a broad average, and the conclusions
to be drawn from such figures should be interpreted in a similar spirit. The
moral is not that every man prefers marriage and every woman prefers
divorce, but that by some appropriate measure, marriage is on average good
for men and bad for women. That's why men pay to stay married and women pay
to get divorced.
Moreover, there's a good reason, rooted in both economics and biology, why
we should have expected this conclusion all along. A 30-year-old woman who
wants a family is getting close to the point where she has to choose the
best of her available suitors. A 30-year-old man can always choose to wait
another five or 10 years till someone better comes along. In general, the
longer you spend searching for something—be it a car, a house, or a life
partner—the happier you're going to be with the one you end up with.
So—again, with myriad exceptions—a woman's optimal strategy is to settle for
an imperfect mate and then try to change him. A man's optimal strategy is to
search until he finds someone close to perfect. It's therefore no surprise
that women, more often than men, should end up regretting their choices.
In hindsight, it all makes sense. Once you realize there's a biological
clock, you should be able to predict that men (having searched long and hard
for the perfect partner) would make financial sacrifices to preserve their
marriages, and that women who stay married to imperfect partners would be
kept in their marriages by financial rewards—or, to say the same thing
another way, that women who leave their marriages would make financial
sacrifices. (And you should also be able to make a lot of auxiliary
predictions, such as this one: Wives try harder to mold their husbands than
husbands try to mold their wives—because husbands wait until they've found
wives who need relatively little molding.) Fairness never had anything to do
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