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.


Karen

Heather @17:

In Australia there is a minimum 30 day waiting period between registering an intention to marry and actually getting married. According to our minister, this has nothing to do with deterring hasty marriages. Rather, it is so that officials can search the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages to make sure the parties aren't either a) already married to someone else or b) brother and sister.

Puma

The costs of marriage? Hmmm. This guy has an essay subtitled "The Cost of Proclaiming Your Undying Love":

www.dont-marry.com

Jeff

I was on a task force in Pennsylvania to look at expanding the tests in the late 1980's. We were looking at HIV testing and scrapped it because it wasn't clear what to do with the results. If we shared them with the Department of Health, then we would actually be discouraging marriage. As to the Syphillis tests, the results are only shared with the potential spouse - sort of truth in wedding. That made the issue easier. We couldn't conceive of testing for HIV and then only telling the potential spouse, particularly in light of the more grim outlook for HIV back then. The concept of rolling back the Syphillis tests was not on the table.

Alice

Comments like "negative unintended consequence: it might increase the number of out-of-wedlock births" really are a bit out-dated these days.

There is no actual reason why a child born in or out of wedlock should be worse off.

I would suggest that bad marriages followed by messy divorces are a far greater and costlier negative consequence than being born out of wedlock.

@17 hit the nail on the head - delay the release of the marriage license for 90 days. Anyone getting married with the full-on ceremony will be planning way ahead of 90 days in advance, and anyone being spontaneous will have time to consider their spontaneity. Where's the harm in that?

Nick Flynt

I agree with many on this forum that a watiting period (90+ days) is not a bad idea. Spontaneous marriages don't serve much purpose in my opinion. In fact, spontaneous anything when it has obvious lifetime consequences is generally not a good idea (see Tattoos). How marriage is viewed in terms of purpose is at issue here. First, it is absolutely a custom our society has placed value on for many, many generations. Marriage, whether viewed from a biblical or secular point is a lifetime commitment, and I can't emphasize the word commitment enough. Threre are also practical reasons for marriage such as health insurance, estate planning, etc. the government has put into place in effect promoting the institution of marriage. Children born out of wedlock, planned or otherwise, do not have a direct bearing on marriage. Again I come back to that word commitment. Someone, mother or father or hopefully both, will have to raise that child. That requires an enormous commitment seperate from that of marriage.
These seperate commitments run parallel to another and I believe feed off each other.
As for the original question of raising marriage license rates. The filing fee for a divorce in Jefferson County, FL is over $400. This is a pretty good incentive to stay in a marriage if the only problem is your wife is a bad cook (mine's not). In other words, I believe it should be hard to get out of a lifetime commitment. $400 is truly not outrageous considering the prevalence of $30,000 weddings these days. It should be at least as hard to enter into a lifetime commitment as it is to get out of one.

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stephan

marriage licenses and pricing are a ridiculous and unnecessary thing. when is the governing body(ies) going to become lean and mean and stop being involved in matters that are personal, especially religious in nature. Any parties, truly willing to marry, will pay the fee regardless, one state or another.Or, is this simply a matter of which state can make the most money?