A recent study published by the Brookings Institute on the relationship between marriage and economics overlooks the causal importance of marriage in economic growth. When discussing the lamentable recent decline in middle class income, the article rightly fingers macroeconomic features as culpable. But marriage is also a decisive factor in the economic health of families, and the distinction between marriage and macroeconomics is not as stark as might be inferred from this study. “Globalization, technological changes, and changes in labor market institutions” must be accounted for in any diagnosis of the recent global economic malaise, but the omission of marriage from such a study results in a myopic diagnosis and a deficient prescription.
April 3, 2012
The Brookings study posits a unidirectional model of causation: macroeconomic stagnation is responsible for the decline in marriage, and macroeconomic stability (not familial stability) is the only solution to the problem: “Rather than focusing on changing values, a more effective approach to addressing both poverty and marriage may be to improve economic opportunities for all Americans.” Thus the author of a New York Times article about this study may be forgiven for echoing that same causal logic: “The rich are different from you and me: they’re more likely to get married.” But this analysis is unidimensional and therefore deficient. The social science data is clear in its insistence that marriage itself improves the economic performance of the partners. A preferable, though no doubt more controversial, headline would read ,”Marrieds are different from you and me: they’re more likely to be rich.”
Our Fiscal Crisis: We Cannot Tax, Spend, and Borrow Enough to Substitute for Marriage, a recent piece of original MARRI research, highlights the numerous economic benefits of marriage, including a 0.9% increase in income per year for men after they marry. Another piece of original MARRI research entitled The Divorce Revolution Perpetually Reduces U.S. Economic Growth shows that “the rate of change in earnings year over year are consistently higher for men in intact marriages than among single or ever-divorced men.” Both of these studies emphasize that the causal link between marriage and economic success is the reverse of that implied by the Brookings study, and those seeking to resolve the nefarious economic straits faced by Americans today embark upon a fool’s errand if they continue to ignore these salutary benefits of monogamous, stable marriage.