Saturday, July 19, 2014
Economists have long argued that there is such a thing as a market for spouses. The old theory, associated with University of Chicago Nobel laureate, Gary Becker, is that people marry for the same reason that nations trade with one another: comparative advantage. If men are better at earning money in the labor market and women are better at taking care of home and children, it makes sense for them to combine forces within marriage so that they can then specialize in what they each do best. The problem with Becker's theory is that with the expansion of labor market opportunities for women, it now needs revision.
Along come June Carbone and Naomi Cahn, who have just written a fascinating book providing us with the needed update. Although they are both lawyers, their story has an economic ring to it. The book, entitled "Marriage Markets," argues that these markets are more segmented by class than in the past (lawyers now marry other lawyers not their secretaries). One can only understand what has happened to marriage if one combines this reality with another one which is the fact that growing income inequality has produced a shortage of women at the top end of the income distribution (where top earners are still primarily male) and a shortage of men at the bottom end (where less skilled men can no longer find good jobs in manufacturing, for example).
Read more here.