Why Marry? (Part 2): A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

(Photo: comedy_nose)

(Photo: comedy_nose)

In last week’s podcast, “Why Marry? (Part 1),” we talked with economists Justin Wolfers and Claudia Goldin about how marriage has changed over the last half century. How popular is marriage these days? Are married people happier? Is divorce as prevalent as we hear?

Now it’s time for “Why Marry? (Part 2).” (You can subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) With the U.S. marriage rate at an all-time low, around 50 percent, we try to find out the causes, and consequences, of the decline of the institution.

First, to get a picture of who marries today and who does not, we talk with Ivory Toldson, a professor of counseling psychology at Howard University and research analyst at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. He tells us:

TOLDSON: People who are less educated tend to be married less than people who are more educated. People who have higher incomes are more likely to be married than those who have lower incomes. And people in smaller cities are more likely to be married than people in larger cities. And that’s true across all races.

One area of particular interest to Toldson is the marriage rate among African-Americans. He talks about his research into the question “Are there enough successful black men for the black women who want them?” The answer is nuanced — but surprising nonetheless.

We also hear from Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster and strategist and co-author of the book What Women Really Want. Lake has spent much of her career looking into the intersection of marriage and politics. For instance:

LAKE: We asked married men and married women: Do you usually vote the same way as your spouse? And 73 percent of married men said confidently yes, and 49 percent of married women say yes. And I call that the “sure honey” factor.

Lake talks about one of the most striking consequences of the low marriage rate: the number of unmarried women who are having children. She tells us that in 1980, 18 percent of births were to unmarried women, while the number today is just over 40 percent. There are inevitable economic ramifications to such a dramatic shift:

LAKE: Two-thirds of unmarried women say that there was some basic cost that they had in their families that they couldn’t make ends meet in the last year. They couldn’t pay the bill compared to 40 percent of married mothers.

For  years, marriage has been promoted as a way to fight poverty, particularly for women with children. But would these mothers be better off if they were married? The answer isn’t clear.

What is clear is that the old model of marriage is nowhere near as attractive as it once was. So how about a new model? What would happen if marriage were treated more like an employment contract?

Audio Transcript

[MUSIC: Euforquestra, “Elegua” (from Explorations in Afrobeat)]

 

Stephen DUBNER: In last week’s episode, we learned that there are a lot of different reasons why people get married.

 

WOMAN: We got married because we love each other.

MAN: To have a family, to continue tradition.

MAN: I’m Catholic, so tradition is a big part of our lives.

MAN: In India it is a social thing to get married.

WOMAN: His visa was expiring, and so it was either pay for him to go out of the country to get a new visa, or we could get married and have a party.

WOMAN: We just finally decided it was be easier to conform.

 

DUBNER: And there are a lot of reasons why people don’t get married:

 

WOMAN: Marriage is …it’s a big commitment.

MAN: It doesn’t make sense, the whole institution of marriage.

WOMAN: I prefer to be single and free.

WOMAN: I think finding a partner is damn hard.

MAN: Why people get married? I have no idea.

WOMAN: And a lot of people ask me why I’m not getting married, you’re beautiful and this and that. It doesn’t work with me.

 

DUBNER: Which brings us to today’s program: “Why Marry? Part 2,” in which we continue to bust the myths of modern marriage and, while we’re at it, come up with a whole new idea for what marriage could be.

 

MAN: When I was young I used to think that might be a thing cool to do I don’t think it’s a good idea anymore.

WOMAN: That’s a little unromantic to me.

MAN: It sounds a bit too contractual to me,

WOMAN: That’s hilarious.

 

[THEME]

 

ANNOUNCER: From WNYC: This is FREAKONOMICS RADIO, the podcast that explores the hidden side of everything. Here’s your host, Stephen Dubner.

 

[MUSIC: Pearl Django, “Chutes, No Ladders” (from Modern Times)]

 

DUBNER:  In our last episode, we heard from the University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers about how marriage today is fundamentally different than it was 50 or 60 years ago. It moved from a factory model — with the husband as CEO, the wife as homemaker, and with what economists call “production complementarities”  to something else:

 

Justin WOLFERS: we’ve moved to what economists would call consumption complementarities. We have more time, more money, and so you want to spend it with someone that you’ll enjoy. So similar interests and passions. We call this the model of hedonic marriage. But really it’s a lot more familiar than that. This is just economists giving a jargon name to love. So you want someone who’s actually remarkably similar to you or has similar passions that you do. So it fundamentally changes who marries who.

 

DUBNER: It also changed how many people marry. Here’s the Harvard economist Claudia Goldin:

 

Claudia GOLDIN: Marriage, let’s face it, is on the decline in many different ways.

 

DUBNER: That’s right. Even though marriage is still more popular in the U.S. than in many wealthy countries, our marriage rate is at an all-time low. Okay, so who’s still getting married and who isn’t? Ivory Toldson teaches counseling psychology at Howard University and is a research analyst at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

 

Ivory TOLDSON: People who are less educated tend to be married less than people who are more educated. People who have higher incomes are more likely to be married than those who have lower incomes. And people in smaller cities are more likely to be married than people in larger cities. And that’s true across all races.

 

DUBNER: Okay, so education and income are correlated with marriage rates, which may not be so surprising, considering what Justin Wolfers told us earlier:

 

WOLFERS: the grumpy, the hard to employ, the selfish would all be far less likely to be marriageable and therefore be less likely to be married than others.

 

[MUSIC: The Mackrosoft, “Life It Too Short” (from S.E.M.E.)]

 

DUBNER: Okay, what other traits affect marriage rates? Well, religion is still a driving force toward marriage. And, as the U.S. grows less religious,  that means less marriage. This may also explain why Western Europe has even lower marriage rates than ours. And what about immigrants to the U.S.? First-generation immigrants are more likely to marry – they may be more religious or traditional than their U.S. counterparts – but those numbers dip dramatically for the second and third generations. One area where marriage is rising, is among gay couples, not surprisingly, since same-sex marriage has only recently been allowed. Since 2004, there have been an estimated 71,000 same-sex marriages in the U.S., with many more expected — so, not a huge number but an upsurge nonetheless. And what about marriage rates by race? Let’s look at the breakdown for men. Roughly 59 percent of Asian men in the U.S. are married, followed by white men at 54 percent, Hispanic men at 45 percent, and black men at just 36 percent. That low number for black men is especially an issue for black women.

 

Nina BRUCE: I am Nina Bruce, I am a native Baltimorean born and raised.

 

DUBNER: Like Nina Bruce.

 

BRUCE: I am 32. I work for the government. And I am actively dating in Baltimore and Washington DC.

 

[MUSIC: Das Vibenbass, “Third Tongue” (from Mind Wrestling)]

 

People want to know why you’re single which is a crazy question because you can’t answer that sometimes and they want to know what you’re doing about it. I’ve done everything. Speed dating, I did a lock and key party, Match.com, eHarmony and of course friends love to set me up. Oh, I know the perfect person for you. Everybody knows the perfect person for you.

 

DUBNER: We asked Bruce why she wants to get married:

 

BRUCE: For me marriage is important for a couple of reasons. I would love to have that bond with someone, I know that that is the core of why I want to get married. And also economically I want to have kids, and not on my own.

 

DUBNER: But she hasn’t been having much success:

 

BRUCE: It’s hard to find someone who is in the same playing field. I mean someone who is not of the same background but someone who A wants to get married B is able to or be in a healthy relationship whether it be financially, physically, or mentally. Even spiritually. It is important to me to date within my race. I think there’s a lot of pressure. I would be open to dating outside of my race but I think there’s a lot of pressure.

 

DUBNER: Nina Bruce is worried about the availability of eligible black men to marry. Ivory Toldson, the Howard scholar we heard from earlier, says that black men are overrepresented in the categories associated with not being married: lower income, education, and living in bigger cities. But Toldson also says that the ratio of available black men to women in the U.S. is not as skewed as most people think:

 

DUBNER: So you have about 800,000 more black women with at least a bachelor’s degree than there are black men. But there are more black men, about 300,000 more black men who have incomes over $75,000 than black women.

DUBNER: Toldson analyzed data from Atlanta and Washington, D.C.:

 

TOLDSON: Both of these cities are seen as, you know, kind of these meccas of progressive black people. And so there was a lot of talk about the ratio, you know whether there is a ratio of black women to black men in these cities. And you typically hear things like 12 to one, 15 to one. If you all went to either one of these cities and just asked someone randomly on the street, you know, what’s the ratio of black women to black men in the city, I guarantee you unless they’d read my research that they’d say something above 10 to one.

 

[MUSIC: The Diplomats of Solid Sound, “No Man” (from What Goes Around Comes Around)]

 

DUBNER: You guarantee us? Alright, we’ll take you up on that. We asked a bunch of people in Atlanta how many marriageable black women there are for every black man.

 

MAN: Ratio of black women to black men…I don’t know, I would say probably 3 to 1. There’s a lot of ladies in Atlanta?

WOMAN: 20 women for every 1 black guy.

MAN: I would say around 2 to 1.

WOMAN: I’ve found women here have got to the point that they dated so many guys and been flaked over so many times it wouldn’t hurt to try dating a female.

WOMAN: I think people’s guard is up.

WOMAN: Incarceration having a big factor in it as well, maybe even people not being employed.

 

DUBNER: Okay, and here’s Ivory Toldson with the real answer:

 

TOLDSON: So the true ratio in both of these cities is 1.3 to one. Then of course if you get in to the educated population you’ll see the ratio get even more skewed, and it goes up to about 1.8 to one in Atlanta and 1.5 to one in Washington D.C. If you’re a young black woman and you want an educated black man, these corrected ratios may give you some comfort, but in real time it still can be a challenge. You know, I’m not trying to put my brothers out there, but I know that some successful black men who are exposed to information like there’s a 15 to one ratio in the city that you live in, they become less committal in relationships and more restrictive in what they believe they deserve. This is certainly not true of all, but if we’re just looking at the entire landscape and how a lot of this information could be misused, that there is a tendency for some men to exploit the data.

 

[MUSIC: The Bad Things, “Lopsided Lullaby” (from Vaudeville Show)]

 

DUBNER: So as you can see, whenever you look at one big story about marriage, there are dozens of small ones lurking just beneath it. And yes, we have more of those stories. Coming up on Freakonomics Radio: if the marriage rate is so low, does that mean that the birth rate is also low?

 

Celinda LAKE: In just six years, half of every kindergarten class in this country is going to be the children of single moms.

 

DUBNER: And, if the old model of marriage just isn’t attractive anymore, how about a new one?

 

WOLFERS: What you’re describing is a move away from a one-size-fits-all contract that’s written by the church to a couple that’s sitting down and writing their own contract.

 

[THEME]

 

ANNOUNCER: From WNYC: This is FREAKONOMICS RADIO, the podcast that explores the hidden side of everything. Here’s your host, Stephen Dubner.

 

[MUSIC: Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics, “The Man Says” (from It’s About Time)]

 

DUBNER: As we’ve been hearing today, marriage has many causes — and, therefore, many consequences. Which means that politicians will inevitably find something to say about it. Here’s Marco Rubio, the Republican U.S. Senator from Florida:

 

Marco RUBIO: The greatest tool to lift people, to lift children and families from poverty, is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82 percent. But it isn’t a government program. It’s called marriage.

 

DUBNER: Is marriage really a poverty-fighting tool? Probably not as much as Rubio says. Yes, higher income is correlated to a higher marriage rate, but as Justin Wolfers told us earlier, a lot of the good things about married people are because of the people who choose to get married, not because of marriage itself. That said, you can see why politicians care so much about marriage:

 

LAKE: For one thing, unmarried women are one of the most Democratic voting constituency groups now in the country.

 

DUBNER: That’s Celinda Lake. She’s a Democratic pollster and strategist. She also co-wrote a book called What Women Really Want. She’s also, in her own words, “one of the political world’s most avid whitewater rafters.”

 

LAKE: It’s very relaxing and really fun. And we often do it in Glacier National Park which is my favorite.

 

[MUSIC: The Diplomats of Solid Sound, “Sizzler” (from Destination… Get Down!)]

 

DUBNER: Lake says that men who aren’t married split their votes between parties, although lean Democrat. But unmarried women are almost a Democratic voting bloc – a diverse bloc, yes, of young and old, rich and poor. Right now, they make up about a quarter of the voters in the U.S. – but they don’t turn out like their married counterparts.

LAKE: We often talk for example about 22 million missing voters, 22 million unmarried women out there who don’t vote. And so the question is, if they came in and when they come in, they can really determine what happens. We could easily say that there are enough votes among unmarried women to easily determine which party would control the House and which party controls the Senate.

 

DUBNER: Married women, meanwhile, are not nearly as monolithic – although there’s a wrinkle to their voting patterns too.

 

LAKE: We asked married men and married women do you usually vote the same way as your spouse. And 73 percent of married men said confidently yes, and 49 percent of married women say yes. And I call that the “sure honey” factor.

 

DUBNER: Celinda Lake has noticed one other marriage trend – really an unmarried trend – that is more dramatic than any of this. It’s the number of unmarried women who are having kids.

 

LAKE: In 1980, 18 percent of births were to unmarried women and today it’s 42 percent. I mean, that is a change within half of my lifetime. In just six years, half of every kindergarten class in this country is going to be the children of single moms.

 

DUBNER: This inevitably has political consequences and economic consequences:

 

LAKE: Two-thirds of unmarried women say that there was some basic cost that they had in their families that they couldn’t make ends meet in the last year. They couldn’t pay the bill compared to 40 percent of married mothers.

 

DUBNER: So would these unmarried mothers necessarily be better off if they were married? To Celinda Lake, the answer isn’t so clear:

LAKE: Does poverty produce being unmarried or does being unmarried produce poverty? It’s a bit of a circular phenomenon, but it’s still very much true that  poverty, the pressures of poverty are producing more single families.

 

LAKE: There’s a very provocative article that said what single moms need is not marriage but childcare. And in the immediate future, we just need a very, very different structuring of our social services.

 

DUBNER: For instance?

 

LAKE: I think it’s the question that hasn’t been thought through very much at all. And I think we don’t have a legal structure, societal structure, political structure really ready to deal with this phenomenon.

 

[MUSIC: Pearl Django, “Blues for Venetia” (from Under Paris Skies)]

 

DUBNER: In a way, all the answers about marriage lead back to the same question: is it good for us? As an institution, does it make us happier, healthier, wealthier, more stable in all the ways that we deem important? The fact is: that question is pretty hard to answer. The people who are more successful on all these levels are more likely to be married, but we can’t say with any certainty whether marriage itself is responsible. But let’s pretend for a minute that it is, that marriage – regardless of who the participants are – makes us better off. If that’s the case, the downward trend in marriage is a bad thing, and it would be nice to reverse it. One barrier to marriage may be that it’s such a big commitment — a permanent commitment, at least in theory. But what if it weren’t? What if you could change the terms of a marriage? We went back to our marriage expert Justin Wolfers:

 

DUBNER: Alright, Justin, one last question let me ask you. This episode came about in part because of an email we received from a listener who writes, I’ll read you one paragraph of his note, “For the last six years,” he says, “I’ve been developing a theory about how marriage should be legal social contracts. I feel that legal marriage, not marriage by the church should be treated more like employment agreements. These “marriage contracts” should bring with them a term that ranges from three to five years. The terms of the contract will be developed by both parties, but I feel that they should include things like expectations, key areas of responsibilities, and so on.” He goes on a bit for why this is so. I’m just curious how you think an idea like that might work. Would it defeat the very purpose that most people are seeking in a marriage? Would it enhance the strength of marriages that are good? Would it strengthen and release marriages that are bad? What do you think?

 

WOLFERS: So I think from an economist’s perspective if what you’re describing is a move away from a one-size-fits-all contract that’s written by the church to a couple that’s sitting down and writing their own contract, deciding what features are particularly important to them and what they want to promise to each other you’re moving from offering one product on the shelf, traditional marriage, to many products on the shelf, traditional marriage and all these other variants that happen to suit your lifestyle better. We usually think that increasing choice like that makes people better off.

 

[MUSIC: Pearl Django, “Blues for Venetia” (from Under Paris Skies)]

 

DUBNER:  Now Justin Wolfers – and his partner Betsey Stevenson – they did draw up a marriage contract. It spells out terms of their finances and inheritance, hospital visitation rights, issues related to their two kids.

 

DUBNER: Is your contract with Betsey renewable, or is it for the long run?

 

WOLFERS: Oh that’s a part I didn’t actually address. So your listener has a view that marriage contracts should be able to be rolled over in three to five years. That’s a part where as an economist I think what he’s suggesting, he’s removing the freedom to contract over longer periods. And that’s actually a terrible idea. So think about some of the most important decisions you make as a couple. You want to go to business school and you want me to support you during that. You know, I’m willing to do that, but the payoff to me comes in ten years time. So the only way we’re going to be able to get to a place where I will support you through business school will be if I can write a ten-year contract. Basically I think you want to let people write contracts of whatever duration it is that makes most sense to them. Now, we need to also be aware that people have psychological biases. My friends in behavioral economics are right about that. And sometimes we fail to understand the future well enough. So we want to write sophisticated contracts understanding our own limitations. But there’s certainly a view that things like supporting each other’s careers, or the major investments we make through children that we want to be able to make much, much longer commitments than just three to five years.

DUBNER: On the other hand, if the problem with a failed marriage is that it failed, then a contracted marriage whose contract expires and is not renewed is not a failure. Would there be any advantage to that?

 

WOLFERS: So this is trying to draw a distinction between not being renewed and being fired.

 

DUBNER: Right, essentially, right exactly.

 

WOLFERS: So I’m sure it’s worth sitting down every few years and rather than just assuming the marriage is working out and continuing on, I’m sure it is worth sitting down and saying, is this employment relationship or is this marital relationship working out. And if it’s not seeing whether there are ways to fix it. And if it’s not working out than separating. And so if the idea is that we need a forcing mechanism to actually have that conversation, I think it’s important to have that conversation. That’s the sense in which I say you want to be aware of our own limitations. Your listener seems to think that one of our limitations is that we never go back and revisit the choices that we made. If that’s true for you then you should build in an annual review.

 

DUBNER: Isn’t that romantic? Yeah, you all seem to think so too …

 

MAN: No I think that kind of ruins the commitment and the meaning behind it.

WOMAN: I think that would be too much of an easy out for people.

WOMAN: That’s what cohabitating is for!

WOMAN: No, I wouldn’t want to do that. I like that we’re kinda locked in.

WOMAN: Having children changes everything about a marriage and I think the kids needs stability.

MAN: You have to renew it every day, to maintain true love.

MAN: It would take emotion out, it would become a business deal.

MAN: That’s something like NBA isn’t it.

MAN: Maybe this contract thing could work? Eh, I don’t know.

MAN: I’d rather have that for friends, yes. But not for marriage.

WOMAN: I told my husband last year, do you want a maid or a lover? And he says I want a lover! And I go, then we need to get a housekeeper. So I re-negotiated a housekeeper last year.

 

[MUSIC: Euforquestra, “Elegua” (from Explorations in Afrobeat)]

 

CREDITS

 

[MUSIC: Spencer Garn, “Deco Nuevo”]

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

 

COMMENTS: 53

View All Comments »
  1. Braden says:

    The only thing this two part series on marriage proved to me is that Wolfers doesn’t know jack about marriage. I know you tried to balance it out at the end but I lost quite a bit of respect for the blog while listening to this.

    Seriously, he suggests sitting down and talking about how your marriage is working every few years??? Try every two weeks or months at most. The other thing he completely misses the ball on is that the selection bias of marriage isn’t as relevant when it’s no longer about the other person and more about tradition. The reason marriages are failing is exactly because flawed people are jumping in for the wrong reasons.

    For the record, my marriage is the best thing that has ever happened to me and something that surprises me is the freedom within that long term commitment.

    University of Chicago MBA

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 11
    • NZ says:

      “The reason marriages are failing is exactly because flawed people are jumping in for the wrong reasons.”

      If that was true, we should be seeing astronomically high marriage rates, and a tradition of marriage that remains strong, coupled with astronomically high divorce rates. But that is not what we’re seeing.

      Marriages are failing because too many people see marriage the way Gretta Cohn does: as something that should be treated like an employment contract; as something that “needs a new model” instead of an old one that worked; as something in which having kids (i.e. starting an indivisible family unit) is an afterthought rather than the whole point.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 4
    • Ipalibo says:

      The discussion in this podcast was about restructuring the marriage contract every couple of years, not how your marriage is going.

      Second, the marriage contract renewal idea was proposed by one person and not necessarily endorsed by the host of the show. It was just an idea to raise discussion. Whether or not, you think it’s the best for your marriage doesn’t mean it is not worth discussing to further intellectual conversations.

      Third, your point about the reason why marriages are failing seems like something you just pulled out of thin air. “Flawed people” – Everyone is flawed in one way or the other. “Wrong reason” – who is to say what is the right reason to get married.

      Marriage, just like other social institutions, is still a construct of humans and is therefore defined by each individual couple’s expectations, upbringing, and belief systems. In my opinion, there are no universal wrong reasons to get married because marriage provides different benefits to different people. What one couple sees as a wrong reason to get married, another may see as a perfect reason to marry. Some marry for love. Some marry for family. Some marry for tradition. None of these reasons are universally wrong.

      Note: I am just trying to provide more perspective and add to the discussion. I am not trying to personally attack you.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 0
  2. NZ says:

    “But would these mothers be better off if they were married? The answer isn’t clear.”

    If noticing basic facts is a troublesome experience that gets in the way of evangelizing your radical ideology, then yes, the answer isn’t clear.

    This blog post follows the Freakonomics pattern as of late: interesting statistic, followed by absolute refusal to get into how the statistic breaks down or why the statistic exists. You might just commit the high crime of noticing something. So, here are a few follow-up questions:

    Which groups are pulling the illegitimacy statistic up or down?

    What societal changes have happened since 1980 and today that might impact the incentives to marry before having kids? What were some social forces discouraging illegitimacy? Are any particular ideologies stronger or weaker now than they used to be?

    You mention the intersection of marriage and politics but, incredibly, fail to mention the marriage gap between Democrat and Republican voters. Why might this not be relevant? (For more on the marriage gap, the Economist does a not-terrible job covering it: http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21591624-republicans-should-worry-unmarried-women-shun-them-marriage-gap)

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1
    • Enter your name... says:

      The answer actually isn’t clear, because the Devil’s in the details.

      The main financial benefits for lower-middle class people are (1) two incomes and (2) only needing to rent one apartment. Things like income tax breaks don’t matter, because they aren’t usually paying any federal income taxes anyway.

      So if you take one illiterate/unemployed/drug addict/mentally ill/otherwise economically unproductive man and marry him to one working mother with two children, then you now have four people living in one household off one salary instead of just three. That woman is now (financially) worse off than she was when she was single, because she now has to buy food and clothes for four people instead of three.

      On the other hand, if you take one man with a low-skill job, and marry him to the same working mother with the same two children, then you have four people living in one household off two incomes. That woman is (on average) financially better off than she was when she was single, because there are now two people buying food and clothes, but only one home that needs to be rented.

      And similarly, if these adults don’t choose to legally marry, but still live together, they’ll get most of the economic benefits, and if they do legally marry, but maintain separate homes, then they won’t get most of the economic benefits.

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
      • NZ says:

        Wait, who’s saying we should take insane, unemployed drug addicts and marry them to people? That would be a devilish (or maybe Swiftian?) detail if anyone had actually proposed it.

        I’m merely saying that if women insisted on marrying the person they had kids with (and obviously this isn’t going to work unless the insistence on marriage comes BEFORE the fun part of having kids), then it’s obvious they’d be better off.

        Anyway, once again the Freakonomics comments (I don’t mean to single you out) focus myopically on financial benefits alone, as if Dad is good for nothing but an extra source of income. We subsidize the crap out of single moms, but the resultant kids still do worse in basically every regard. The real benefits of marriage come from the intact nuclear family.

        Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1
      • James says:

        “Wait, who’s saying we should take insane, unemployed drug addicts and marry them to people?”

        The women (mostly) who all too often choose to marry men like this.

        It’s also perfectly possible to enjoy what you call “the fun part” without ever having kids, but alas, too many women seem to regard it as merely an inconvenient but necessary prelude to kids.

        Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5
      • NZ says:

        @James:

        Most women don’t choose to marry men like this. Instead they just get knocked up by them. It would actually be better to marry them, because they can offer more than (or something other than) just an income. Cycling back here to the Pareto efficiency of marriage: how bad does the relationship/quality of spouse have to be before it’s better for the kids in the long term to be a single parent? My guess: Much worse than we’re led to believe.

        This also gets into a chicken/egg thing. Single-parent households are more likely to produce kids who grow up to be illiterate unemployed drug addicts!

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3
      • James says:

        “Most women don’t choose to marry men like this.”

        Oh, but many do. It’s simply that in large fraction of cases, the men who’ve “knocked them up” have chosen not to marry them, even though the women would presumably like them to.

        Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
      • NZ says:

        @James:

        OK, so I think we both agree we’re talking about women whose only option for sexual partners, apparently, is illiterate drug addicts. And that we’re talking about women who will consistently fail to insist on the use of birth control. (I.e. women who are pretty far left on the Bell Curve.) So, I guess I see 3 options here:

        1. These women could choose to continue getting knocked up by illiterate drug addicts outside of marriage.
        2. These women could choose to stop having sex with illiterate drug addicts outside of marriage.
        3. These women could choose to stop having sex altogether.

        #1 is obviously their most likely option, given human nature and a climate of sexual freedom.
        #2 was once their most prevalent choice, because there was not a climate of sexual freedom.
        #3 just ain’t gonna happen, ever.

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4
      • dworkshop says:

        NZ, you say that some women get knocked-up by unskilled, low-income men, That gives the impression that it isn’t the woman’s fault that she became pregnant. It takes two to tango, and men and women are both responsible for either unprotected or protected sex.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0
      • James says:

        “OK, so I think we both agree we’re talking about women whose only option for sexual partners, apparently, is illiterate drug addicts.”

        Not just illiterate drug addicts, but drunks, abusers, general all-around jerks, &c. Nor are these sorts the women’s ONLY option: it’s just that in a significant percentage of cases, that option appears to be the first choice.

        Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2
      • NZ says:

        @dworkship & James:

        I hope no problem with either of those statements. I thumbed-up both.

        Right now these women are mostly just getting knocked up by the not-so-great men available to them. My point is that their attentiveness to sexual protection isn’t going to change, their selection of men isn’t going to change, and so their best option is to start demanding marriage before the Goodies are given away. This is true in spite of whether these men are net earners for their households.

        We know that it’s possible to change attitudes towards marriage, because it wasn’t so long ago that even uneducated poor people had average illegitimacy rates much lower than even educated white people’s average illegitimacy rates today. Here’s what made the difference:

        1) Strong social pressure to be at least somewhat religious, or at least to go to church regularly
        2) Taboos against single-parenthood
        3) Taboos against fornication

        We have it within us as a society to bring these back, but there are loud dominant voices telling us not to, mainly for reasons that revolve around individualism, moral relativism, secularism, and so on. I once avidly supported all these isms, until I realized what are their long-term results.

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3
  3. Jack says:

    You barely touched on two major claims about single mothers: that their children are more likely to fail in school, and more likely to turn to crime. It would make a great follow-up show (Why Marry? 3) to hear whether these claims are true or false, what studies have been done, and what follow-ups.

    PS: It was nice of whoever did your transcript to improve Lake’s English by changing the two times that she used “phenomena” but meant “phenomenon.”

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0
  4. Sylvain says:

    There’s something wrong with these podcasts: you made it sound as if the only alternative to being married is being single. What about cohabitation?

    For instance, a child born to a unmarried woman is not necessarily born to a single mother.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1
  5. toni timpke says:

    thanks for all your great work..always fascinating..

    xcept, why is ”why marry” part two, the same as part one?

    looking forward to everything you do,

    sincerely, toni

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  6. JF420 says:

    Hi guys,

    I really enjoyed the show. However, it really irks me that you advertise for Lumosity. I understand that advertising is absolutely important for your podcast, but neuro-BS companies that exploit limited awareness of neuroscience are just not companies you should advertise for…

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0
  7. Kirsten says:

    I am getting very tired of people quoting the jump in the rate of children born to unmarried mothers. There are many stable families in which, for various reasons, the parents have decided not to legally marry. The data need to be sorted to exclude mothers who are in long-term, committed relationships.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1
    • NZ says:

      They do sort this out. The evidence is still that in a huge majority of cases, the children of unmarried mothers fare worse in the long term. This is true even when they’re in long-term committed relationships that aren’t marriages.

      There may be “many” stable families headed by unmarried parents, but these “many” are actually quite few if you look at the general population, and even fewer if you rule out people with other significant pre-existing advantages like a set of available grandparents nearby who can step in and help out or, more significantly, people who are widowed.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3
  8. Katya Vasilaky says:

    I’m surprised that economists haven’t looked at the “informal” or “missing” markets of “marriage.” Freakonomics podcast should team up with another NPR podcast called Savage Love.

    Savage Love discusses the many arrangements that do and do not involve marriage, but lead to successful long term partnerships. They could include all sorts of “crazy” things that economists may find hard to imagine.

    In any case, the parameters on which partners match on changes over time, and so do the rules on which they match. This is a dynamic model with updating as an economist, like myself, might say. Marriage and divorce rates are metrics that aren’t capturing the underlying market at play. Furthermore, that market has changed in relation to other countries, so the comparisons seems erroneous.

    All in all, it was a fun podcast to listen to.

    Katya, PhD
    Columbia U

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
    • BC says:

      I don’t know if Dan Savage is a good match for this podcast. You are right that Dan has a lot of hyper-liberal ideas about relationships. For example, Dan doesn’t believe in monogamy (instead, he argues for “monogamish” – i.e. some monogamy with some outside flings). Dan has called heterosexual couples “insane” for having jealously over the idea of their partner sleeping with other people outside the relationship. Dan will say he approves of monogamy, but then he’ll attack monogamy in a variety of ways: saying it’s not being honest to expect people to be monogamous, that jealousy over your partner sleeping with other people is crazy, or that being in a monogamous relationship means that your partner has to act like “a whore” in order to satisfy all your sexual kinks. In the end, I think he gives lip service to monogamy as an option, but then going out of his way to undermine any belief in it. He’s very much outside any mainstream discussion of marriage.

      (I used to read Dan’s column every week, but eventually they all start to look the same and over the years, I saw him getting more and more extreme in his beliefs – which made me think he was doing it for attention.)

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2
    • AKArabian says:

      Seconding the questioning of Savage’s suitability – simply being widely published in alternative magazines does not correlate to providing sounds, well researched advice. Anecdotes of couples having successful relationships is obviously not the same as providing evidence that people have substantially changed their definition of acceptable behavior. Mr. Savage may state that heterosexuals are crazy to expect monogamy, but the fact that they do in the vast majority of cases indicates that your dynamic model has not updated. As an economist you deal in realities, not perceptions. Until you can show me that the proposals Mr. Savage has for successful relationships result in, well, successful relationships in a statistically sound and well researched way its not reality, its just perception.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0