wedding

Marital Economics

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Feb 21, 2012

By Mira Korber, guest blogger.

When Bill Clinton said Hillary Rodham was “the smartest person [he] ever met in [his] lifetime,” he was definitely expressing a changing long term trend: what husbands value in their future wives.

According to the study cited in this interesting NY Times Op-Ed, now is a better time than ever for highly educated women’s marriage prospects. In 1939, “education and intelligence” were ranked 11th on a desirable traits list; by 2008, the same category had risen to fourth place.  That placed women’s smarts above a “pleasing disposition,” number five on the 2008 wish list.

Even in 1950, 33% of all women with a college degree remained unmarried as opposed to a mere 7% of non-college educated women. By 2008, the gap had vanished for degree-holding women aged 35 to 39, and only 9% of college-educated women 55 to 59 were still unmarried.

This paper, by economist Elaina Rose, discusses the economic theory of marriage, the “marriage market,” and trending changes from 1970-1990. According to the paper, marriage market “specialization” has declined as women now complete comparable or greater educational degrees with respect to men. Therefore, the female role in the labor market is on the rise. Ms. Rose also predicts that hypergamy (marrying “up”) is overall on the decline for the coming years.

And while it’s a good time for educated women to marry, more and more aren’t marrying at all.

The Economic Lesson

Every decision you make has an opportunity cost: what you sacrifice by making a choice. In other words, whenever you choose one thing, you always give something else up.  You may choose to get married; staying single is your opportunity cost. You may choose to pursue a masters’ degree; turning down that job offer straight out of college is your opportunity cost.

These sacrifices represent trade-offs. The list of desirable female traits from 1939-2008 represents changing preference of an aggregate group of men. Here you can find relevant mathematical models and equations in another Elaina Rose paper: “A Joint Model of Marriage and Partner Choice,” which discusses how people choose their “optimal” partners for life.

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