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. Nick Flynt says:

    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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  2. stephan says:

    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?

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