Traditionally, marriage has been about specialization and “production complementarities.” With the husband in the labor force and the wife at home, their division of labor resembled a small factory. He supplied the income and she was the “domestic specialist.” As in the factory, specialization led to a more productive household.
Marriage has become a different kind of economic unit. In many households, both partners earn income and both (or none) cook. Washing machines, dishwashers and microwave ovens minimize chores. We have daycare and take-out. Women have more control over childbearing and their financial security.
Characterizing the change, economists have said that marriage was based on shared production. Now, increasingly, marriage is all about shared consumption.
You can see how the new marriage model works for women with more education, especially women with more earning capability. As economists Adam Isen and Betsey Stevenson explain, “While woman with more education are less likely to find the old specialization model of marriage useful, a modern marriage based on consumption complementarities is likely more enticing for educated women as the new model of marriage thrives when households have the time and resources to enjoy their lives.”
The numbers reinforce Isen’s and Stevenson’s conclusions:
Their conclusions also relate to a network of changes for women during the past 50 years.
- Women marry when they are older.
- Women have more control over when they will have children.
- Women do not necessarily view marriage as a source of financial security.
- Women have more education.
I wonder whether our one theme is human capital. Is more valuable female human capital the reason that marriage is increasingly about consuming together rather than producing through a division of labor?
Sources and Resources: Because of a new study on the benefits and costs of delayed marriage called “Knot Yet,” the articles on women and marriage have multiplied. More academic and yet readable, I recommend this Stevenson and Isen paper (the source of my quote and education table), this Brookings post (the source of the income table), and an older economix blog. I have also used an excerpt from econlife.