Old-Fashioned Matchmaking as an Antidote to Modern Dating Dilemmas

We recently put out four Freakonomics Radio episodes that developed an arc of a theme: "Reasons to Not Be Ugly," "What You Don't Know About Online Dating," "Why Marry? (Part 1)" and "Why Marry? (Part 2)." These episodes prompted a lot of interesting listener/reader replies. Here is a particularly interesting one, from a woman we'll call R.:

I recently listened to your podcast on online dating and found it fascinating -- not so much because of the economics of dating, but more how it contrasted and compared with the economics of the dating world I live in: the Orthodox Jewish semi-arranged marriages.

I grew up in upstate New York, in a village that is almost only Haredi Orthodox. The world I live in is sort of like Jane Austen, very marriage-oriented. Every girl (and boy for that matter) wants to get married, and does so in her early twenties. The systems at play to get everyone married off must fascinate an outsider. Out of my class of about sixty, about 95% got married within the first five years out of school. So far, only one girl is divorced. It's hard to quantify happiness in all these marriages but from what my friends tend to tell me, most seem very happy in their relationships. I know that the Orthodox Union has done research into the area. They collected a lot of data by surveying thousands of Orthodox couples, including Haredim, with in-depth online questionnaires. While I have not examined their data (and what a treasure trove that must be to an economist!) I think that this success in matching quickly, efficiently, and happily is due to changing the incentives you talk about in your podcast. The entire process seems to have been designed to reduce outer beauty from being the main incentive in a marriage market.

Religion, Labor Supply, and Happiness

SuperFreakonomics looked at research by Douglas Almond and Bhashkar Mazumder on the birth effects of prenatal exposure to Ramadan. A new paper by Filipe Campante and David Yanagizawa-Drott looks at the economic effects of religious practices, a particularly relevant question this month:

We study the economic effects of religious practices in the context of the observance of Ramadan fasting, one of the central tenets of Islam. To establish causality, we exploit variation in the length of the fasting period due to the rotating Islamic calendar. We report two key, quantitatively meaningful results: 1) longer Ramadan  fasting has a negative effect on output growth in Muslim countries, and 2) it increases subjective well-being among Muslims.

Gay Rights in Russia? Nyet

Gay marriage and gay rights have dominated much of the U.S. news over the past week. In Russia, meanwhile, from the Associated Press:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a measure that stigmatizes gay people and bans giving children any information about homosexuality. ...

The ban on "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" is part of an effort to promote traditional Russian values over Western liberalism, which the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church see as corrupting Russian youth and contributing to the protests against Putin's rule.

Hefty fines can now be imposed on those who provide information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to minors or hold gay pride rallies.

One University That Isn't Cutting Costs

A Washington Post profile of Liberty University, founded in 1971 by Jerry Falwell, says that Liberty has doubled its enrollment in the last six years:

The surging enrollment for a bastion of Christian conservatism in the central Virginia foothills highlights the school as a market leader at the crossroads of religion and higher education. Liberty figured out how to recruit masses of students via the Internet years before elite universities began ballyhooed experiments with free online courses.

Turbocharged growth inevitably raises questions about quality, and Liberty’s academic reputation has not risen as fast as its enrollment. About 47 percent of its first-time, full-time students graduate within six years, federal data show, below the national average of 58 percent. Liberty officials say such statistics reflect an admissions policy geared more toward opportunity than exclusivity.

And Liberty is doing well on the finance front too: "The university ended 2012 with more than $1 billion in net assets for the first time, counting cash, property, investments and other holdings. That is 10 times what the school had in 2006."

(HT: Marginal Revolution)

A Clarification on the Immaculate Reception (and Conception)

In the "Immaculate Reception" documentary that premiered last night on the NFL Network, I was called upon to discuss the religious provenance of the play's name. Here's what I say in the program:

People thought it was about the Virgin Birth. It wasn’t about Jesus. It was about the Immaculate Conception, where Mary is visited by an Angel of God and therefore becomes pregnant without having been touched by sin.

So I started out on the right track, by clarifying that the Immaculate Conception is a different event than the Virgin Birth, that it refers to the conception of Mary, not of Jesus. But then the explanation gets garbled as I plainly misspoke -- said "Mary" instead of "Mary's mother," or "Anne."

I've already heard from several viewers, and I apologize for the error and the confusion. I will talk to the producers about perhaps getting it straightened out. I guess that's why I prefer writing to talking -- you can plainly see your errors and fix them before they become real!

The Demand Curve for Religion

“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”? In many European countries, religion comes at a price: If you want the services of a religious community -- for marriages, burial, and other activities -- you pay a tax.  (In Germany, for example, there is an 8 percent surcharge on your income-tax bill.) A very nice Finnish study by Teemu Lyytikäinen and Torsten Santavirta, “The Effect of Church Tax on Church Membership” (Journal of Population Economics, forthcoming), uses this institution to examine the demand curve for religion. The price elasticity of demand is fairly small—not more than 0.05—but that is partly because until 2003, Finland made it difficult to opt out of a religious community (and opt out of paying the tax).  Not surprisingly, once the transactions costs of tax avoidance were reduced, the elasticity of demand appears to have risen.

Contraception as a Prisoner's Dilemma

A reader named Dennis Schenkel in Martin, Tenn., writes in with an interesting commentary about an article that intersects with a lot of things we've written about:

First, I know I'm partisan. I'm a Catholic priest. I'm a moralist. I'm biased. That having been said, I just read an article [from 2010] ... describing how better contraceptives have successfully split the previous (before 1960) "mating market" into two markets consisting of the "sex market" and the "marriage market," the author goes on to describe how this sets up a classic "prisoner's dilemma" for women and gives men a huge advantage in both markets. The article appears in First Things, which is a religion/philosophy/culture/arts journal inhabited mostly by orthodox Catholic and Protestant Christians. But the article's author does his best to speak exclusively in the language of the social sciences, without moralizing.


The Status Quo

If you ever travel to Israel (which, BTW, is a phenomenal place to visit regardless of your attitudes toward religion or Middle Eastern politics), you’ll certainly see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on what many believe is the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. But you might come away a bit disappointed; the church has something of a disorganized and ramshackle feel.

The problem is not that the site isn’t considered sacred, but that it’s considered too sacred. Thanks to its obvious import, it is shared—and has been for thousands of years—by multiple religious denominations, including the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Ethiopian Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox sects. (Sorry, Protestants, since Luther’s 95 Theses were not posted until 1517 you are Johnny-come-latelys and don’t get a piece of the action.)

Modesty Glasses

Men in the ultra-Orthodox religious community in Jerusalem object to women walking on the street in short skirts or sleeveless blouses, even attacking those who venture out in such unacceptable outfits.  Very few women will dare to go out dressed that way in certain sections of this magnificent city.  News of the Weird reports a solution that shifts the cost of enforcing the policy to the men: Members of “modesty patrols” are now selling ultra-Orthodox men glasses that blur distant images, thus preventing them from seeing “immodestly dressed” women.  This is a neat application of the Coase Theorem, and it seems a fair one: With these glasses, the costs of enforcing the men’s religious beliefs will be borne by the men rather than by women who choose how they wish to dress.

Better Living Through Religious Conversion?

A response via Twitter concerning our recent post about Cambodian villagers who reportedly converted to Christianity to save money:

@DavidFCox: I had an Indian friend that changed religion 4 times to get best education