"IN some cultures, romance isn’t nearly as important as cash when it comes to choosing a marriage partner. And even when money plays no explicit role in selecting a mate, courtship customs are governed by the venerable economic model of supply and demand.
Under the dowry system in India, for example, parents of older brides would typically pay more to prospective grooms. Men with better jobs would receive larger payments, too.
In short, there really is a marriage market in many countries around the world, and economic principles apply to it. In markets with a preponderance of women seeking partners, the terms of trade shift in favor of men. If more men are seeking partners, the reverse is true. Two cases in point are the baby-boom generation in the United States and the current youth cohort in China."
"Before the 1960s, cultural norms encouraged celibacy before marriage. The breakdown of those norms has been widely attributed to the introduction of oral contraception, which gave women an unintrusive way to protect themselves against an unwanted pregnancy. The pill no doubt played a role — perhaps a very big one — but skeptics object that effective alternative forms of contraception had long since been available.
The supply-and-demand model bolsters the skeptics’ concerns. Biologists describe a fundamental asymmetry in the sexual strategies favored by males and females in vertebrate species. Males, whose sex cells are cheap to produce, tend to favor more transient sexual relationships, whereas females, for whom pregnancy and birth are far more costly, tend to favor greater commitment. The sexual revolution, which bent cultural norms toward male preferences, may thus be partly explained by the excess demand for grooms in the 1960s.
An imbalance in the opposite direction characterizes the contemporary marriage market in China. The Chinese government’s one-child policy, combined with a cultural preference for sons and technologies that permit selective abortion, have helped to create a large sex-ratio imbalance among young Chinese. For every 100 women in that group, there are now more than 120 men.
According to market models, the terms of trade in the Chinese marriage market should have shifted sharply in favor of women. And evidence suggests that young Chinese women and their families have in fact become much more selective in recent years.
They appear, for example, to focus more critically on the earnings potential of prospective mates. Because house size is often assumed to be a reliable signal of wealth, a family can enhance its son’s marriage prospects by spending a larger fraction of its income on housing. (Other families can follow the same strategy, of course, but when all families do so, the resulting homes are still reliable indicators of relative wealth.) Such a shift appears to have occurred."
"...families with sons built houses that were significantly larger than those built by families with daughters, even after controlling for family income and other factors. They also generally found that the higher a city’s male-to-female ratio, the bigger the average house size of families that have sons.
Mr. Wei reports that many families with sons have begun to add a phantom third story to their homes, one that looks normal from the outside but whose interior space remains completely unfinished."
There is "...evidence that men are more likely to make risky financial investments in cities with higher male-to-female ratios. Their specific finding was that significantly more local businesses are started in such cities."
Sunday, August 28, 2011
There really is a marriage market in many countries
See Supply, Demand and Marriage by Robert Frank, New York Times, 8-6-11. Excerpts: