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. Gerv 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.”

    At least here in the UK, the figures don’t back you up on that one – at least, if you look at it narrativally rather than point-in-time. For a start, non-marriage relationships are more likely to break up, which means that the kids have worse average outcomes.

    Research example: “The institute cited the Millennium Cohort Study, a survey by the Institute of Education in London of nearly 20,000 children born in 2000.

    This, it said, ‘has shown that children of cohabiting couples do worse than those of married couples.’ ”,+admits+Blairite+think+tank/

    Sadly, I don’t think the full study is online.

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  2. --E says:

    It seems to me that out-of-wedlock births are possibly preferable to bad-marriage births. (I will never understand people who think that their marriage problems will be “solved” if they have a child.)

    I would be interested in a statistical comparison of how well children do when they are raised by a single parent, vs how well they do when raised in a contentious household with parents who resent one another. While it might be hard to differentiate between stable marriages and bad ones, I suggest as a comparison group children whose parents divorced when the child was between age seven and age fifteen.

    James @#4: presumably the price of the wedding is something over which the couple have control. But the absolute minimum cost will be whatever the government requires for paperwork. If the couple want to have a lavish production, that’s their own lookout. Nothing the government can do about it.

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  3. J says:

    There is no way the government could charge anything commensurate with the marriage costs we willingly take on: costs for catering, designer dresses, photographers. For most middle and upper class people, the cost of the marriage license is a mere fraction of the total cost of getting married.

    Thus, an increased cost would affect only the poor.

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  4. Justin James says:

    In SC, my marriage license cost a “whopping” $30. $30 compared to a wedding (unless you are being married by your neighbor the notary in the backyard with hot dogs on the grill and Coors Light in the cooler) is a drop in the bucket. Please.

    Anyone who lets $30 deter them from getting married is not serious enough about it to make it a good wedding anyways.


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  5. Gale Thorne says:

    I’m curious what the statistics on the relative success rates cheaper vs. more expensive marriages are? Perhaps there is some insight there on the value of something more difficult to obtain. Or perhaps not. Either way, I’d love to know.

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  6. Doctor Gonzo says:

    I do have to laugh at all of the comments about how the cost of a wedding is running out of control. Last time I checked, the size and cost of a wedding is entirely up to the participants. I got married in my mother’s townhouse, with my brother officiating, and about a dozen guests. That wasn’t too expensive!

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  7. Gerv says:

    E: unless you think that there are significantly more “bad” marriages than there are “bad” living-togethers, then assessing the quality of the relationships won’t change the balance.

    As for solving marriage problems with a child, how many women who live with their partners, searching for more intimacy and commitment, have a child in the hope that it will increase the commitment of their man? If the answer is “no idea”, then I think that’s also the answer to your speculation about people trying to fix marriages by having children.

    Are you sure you are not searching for some way to make the facts bend to fit what you would like to be true? As the abortion example in the Freakonomics book shows us, there’s facts and there’s interpretation of the facts. (Some would interpret the crime drop when abortion rates rose as being an argument for legal abortion; I interpret it as a wake-up call to those who would ban abortion that they need to develop solutions to other social problems at the same time.) Why is it a problem for you if married relationships produce better outcomes for the children?

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  8. Jake says:

    How much of the blood test avoidance was due to cost vs the hatred of needles? My wife hates having blood drawn. If blood tests had been required; I could see us getting married in a different State to avoid the actual test rather than the cost of the tests.

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