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  • kewal sethi

economics, marriage and divorce

economics, marriage and divorce

(note - this may not be very relevant for indian conditions where child marriages are still in vogue in some parts of the country. and dowry is considered to be a must for a good marriage not withstanding the slogan "dulhan hi dahez hai" still it is interesting to know how common day culture and customs are affected by economic situation and technology.) this is condensed from a book by tim harvard , "the logic of life". this is only a precis. I have reduced it to question and answer form but the original is running matter.

q. what are the rules of marriage market?

a. looking at it economics wise - it is a question of supply and demand. and there is competition. if there are less men, the expectations of the women take a steep dive. the woman who is likely to be left out agrees to lower her expectation and the cycle begins. eventually every woman lowers the expectation.

q. are there alternatives to marriage?

a. alternatives are – going for a job, going for sex outside of marriage, set up a business etc.

q. reason for different approaches to marriage and sex?

a. consequences are more demanding on time and resources for females (as they may lead to pregnancies). hence they must choose carefully. men are not so fussy.

q. why marriage?

a. it is more practical for two parents to rear a child than for a single parent. one cannot be as efficient both as a hunter or gatherer as also on rearing a child. men did the former and women the latter. two halves added to more than a whole. it is the same old theory about division of labour which leads to higher productivity.

q. what are the preferences for choosing a partner?

a. women prefer men who are tall and have high status (which included wealth). men prefer women who are beautiful (which included health). this is also reflected in responses to internet dating. for this reason there are more women in and near rich areas. men without wealth (especially unskilled ones) avoid these areas.

q. what are the consequences of unskilled men staying away?

a. women fill up the vacuum. this explains why secretaries or the waiters are mostly female. incidentally this keeps them in the vicinity of rich men.

q. is there another example of such shortage?

a. almost as a rule there are more black men in the crime circuit (and the jails) than white men. this leads to a competition for those men who are out of it. women, to increase their bargaining power, go to college or seek a job. it is a rational investment for girls to have an alternative to marriage.

q. how does this affect the men?

a. since their bargaining position is strong, many men choose not to marry at all. they get all the sex they want. there are more single mothers in such areas. also, those who marry, marry well educated women. the women do it because such men are more likely to stay put.

q. how do the birth control methods affect marriage scene?

a. pregnancy is time and energy consuming. also rearing of the young ones. contraceptives mean less chance for that and hence more fun out of sex. result is that either marriage is postponed or avoided. also since the time of pregnancy can be decided, it encourages them to go for career prospects. it encourages employers to employ them since they are less likely to desert without notice. delay in pregnancy adds to the income that can be generated. statistics show that one more year delay means ten percent rise in income in later years.

q. if this is so, why marry at all?

a. the answer lies in old principle of division of labour. two halves add to much more than a whole. half time work and half time looking after the house is not economic preposition. division of labour is governed by what one is good at. men, helping around the house, merely spoil the show. so women tend to look after the house and the babies.

q. how does the changed atmosphere affect life?

a. till fifties, the house work was time consuming. gadgets developed thereafter reduced the burden. women had more time and could think of going back to employment market. the old division of labour formula was not so strong now. it encouraged women to go for career options instead of merely raising children.

q. how does this affect institution of divorce?

a. in 1969, california introduced 'no fault divorce'. no excuse was necessary. many other states followed. this meant increase in divorce rate but it was a temporary phenomenon. later economics took over. more career opportunities meant women could end unhappy marriage without financial worries. but it also meant men were more careful about annoying wives. it also meant that women sacrificing their career to allow their men to go for college education was no longer necessary. the contraceptives, the career options, the divorce reinforce each other. they empower women.

q. what is the rational response to these developments?

a. couples are moving away from marriage and divorce to a more stable arrangement. marriage is postponed till the couple is sure of each other.

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