The Price of Marriage

When my wife and I got married in 1966 in Massachusetts, we had to take blood tests to make sure we weren’t syphilitic. (We weren’t.)

In 1980, most states required such tests, but today only two do. Such tests essentially increase the price of getting married, since they raise the time and money price of a marriage license. A very neat new study allows one to use the differential timing of the repeal of blood-test laws to infer what the demand curve for marriage licenses looks like as the implied price decreases.

The paper shows that abolishing blood tests increased the number of marriage licenses issued by 6 percent, although half that change simply reflects people no longer crossing state lines to avoid the cost of the blood test. While no longer relevant today, one might think that raising the price of marriage licenses could have the beneficial effect of deterring spur-of-the-moment marriages. Of course, like so many restrictions, it might also have a negative unintended consequence: it might increase the number of out-of-wedlock births.

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  1. Chris says:

    Now, if only we could reduce the price of weddings. I fear that only an act of congress can pull us back from wedding events that cost more than my entire college education.

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  2. zach says:

    not to mention it would have stronger negative incentives on the poor, who are already plagued with low marriage rates.

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  3. Andreas Severinsen says:

    How is children born “out-of-wedlock” a problem? The problem is children born outside a stable relationship. And it shouldn’t have anything to do with a religious ritual. I know the marriage once were quite “holy”, but today nobody seems to care at all.

    In fact I believe that increasing the price would make the average mothers age increase (because of the decrease of spur-of-the-moment marriages), which again would increase the chance of the baby being born into a more stable relationship. Which at least I consider the most important thing of all.

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  4. James says:

    What about variation in the cost of ‘getting married’ – including the average cost of a wedding in your culture and region?

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  5. Adam S says:

    You could do a similar thing if you just increase the cost of the marriage licenses but give discounts if you fulfill a waiting requirement. So you can get a last minute license right now for lots of money, or a cheaper one if you wait. There is a discount in GA for attending pre-marital counseling which has been shown to deter some bad marriages, but the discount is so small (as little as $5 in some counties) that there is in effect no real incentive.

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  6. Peter says:

    Are out-of-wedlock births necessarily a bad thing?

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  7. MikeM says:

    The question is, are out-of-wedlock births necessarily a bad thing if these are the kids born to parents who would have been married if they could have saved a few bucks on a marriage license?

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  8. Michelle says:

    I agree that out-of-wedlock births aren’t a bad thing.

    I also think they will continue as long as women can get their hospital bills paid for if they’re single, but not if they’re married.

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