In spite of the mountains of social science research about the benefits of marriage, the attacks against marriage and the retreat from marriage over the past 40 years have been driven by the attitude that marriage is a bad deal for both women and men. Years of research have surprised many by showing that marriage benefits men in a wide variety of ways — what is most surprising is that, in many ways, marriage benefits men more than women. In short, “marriage is a different deal than it was 40 years ago,” said Pew economist Richard Fry. He explains, “Typically, most wives did not work, so for economic well-being, marriage penalized guys with more mouths to feed but no extra income. Now most wives work. For guys, the economics of marriage have become much more beneficial.” In many respects, if you think men get a bad deal out of marriage, you are very much living in the past.
Economists refer to the economic benefit that accrues to married couples as the “marriage premium.” A recent CBS television special asked the question, “Why is marriage such an economic turn-on?” The program, MoneyWatch, gave three reasons based on a report from the Pew Research Center’s report, “Women, Men and the New Economics of Marriage”:
1. Economies of Scale — Married couples share the cost of necessary expenses, like health insurance, utility bills, mortgage payments, etc. That is especially significant today when more than two-thirds of men have working spouses and 22 percent of wives make more than their husbands.
2. Married Couples Earn More — From 1970 to 2007, median household income for married couples rose more than incomes for unmarried couples. The mutual support that couples give each other, and their mutual stake in the relationship, means they work together toward their financial goals.
3. Married Couples Invest Better — Married women invest in stocks more than unmarried women and, as couples, they “invest more, save more and are more future-oriented.”
Even during the current economic downturn, married couples are discovering that marriage is a safe haven. According to an article in the Washington Post, The Great Recession that began in 2007 “exposed an economic factor” (i.e., lower unemployment rates of married men and women) that had pushed ahead of more romantic reasons for marriage, such as “emotional intimacy, sexual satisfaction, and individual happiness.”
Alex Roberts, writing for the Institute for American Values, notes that marriage is especially important for poor and working-class couples who of late have been “drifting farther and farther away from the institution of marriage.” He contends that marriage, while still economically advantageous, is not economically necessary now that women are so prevalent in the work force. Ironically, social circumstance has merely changed the dynamics of marriage; it has not changed the demand for marriage. According to Roberts, women with greater economic resources are now significantly more likely to marry; they just marry for different reasons — they marry for companionship, not for financial benefits.
Other researchers take a different perspective and argue that the hard financial times are increasing the importance of finding a mate with money. A study at the University of Iowa found that being a “good financial prospect” is increasingly important to men looking for a mate. For men, that attribute ranked #12 on a 2008 list of desirable attributes while for women it ranked #10. Ironically, having a fancy car and other status symbols enhances a man’s marital odds, while it does not work well for a woman to have those same status symbols when seeking marriage.
In their report on “Money and Marriage,” the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values observes that the current “Great Recession” seems to be “solidifying, not eroding” the marital bond for most couples. The divorce rate is falling as couples realize that as they make it through this rough time they are learning to compromise and, thus, can stick it out. Indeed, a Pew Research survey found that four in 10 Americans report that the recession has brought their family “closer together.” In other words, said Wilcox, “Americans are discovering the power that family ties have to carry them — financially, socially and emotionally — through tough times.” In fact, a recent article made four recommended priorities for success and well-being in these difficult times. Their first recommendation: Reduce the number of unmarried adults. As W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, said, “The economic downturn reminds us that marriage is more than an emotional relationship. It’s also an economic partnership and a social safety net.”