Freakonomics on Marriage Part II

Last week, we linked to the first part of Freakonomics podcast on motivations for marriage. This week, to quote the late Paul Harvey, is “the rest of the story.”

Here is a description of “Why Marry? (Part 2)”:

In last week’s podcast, “Why Marry? (Part 1),” we talked with economists Justin Wolfers and Claudia Goldin about how marriage has changed over the last half century. How popular is marriage these days? Are married people happier? Isdivorce as prevalent as we hear?

Now it’s time for “Why Marry? (Part 2).” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript.) With the U.S. marriage rate at an all-time low, around 50 percent, we try to find out the causes, and consequences, of the decline of the institution.

First, to get a picture of who marries today and who does not, we talk with Ivory Toldson, a professor of counseling psychology at Howard University and research analyst at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. He tells us:

TOLDSON: People who are less educated tend to be married less than people who are more educated. People who have higher incomes are more likely to be married than those who have lower incomes. And people in smaller cities are more likely to be married than people in larger cities. And that’s true across all races.

One area of particular interest to Toldson is the marriage rate among African-Americans. He talks about his research into the question “Are there enough successful black men for the black women who want them?” The answer is nuanced — but surprising nonetheless.

We also hear from Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster and strategist and co-author of the bookWhat Women Really Want. Lake has spent much of her career looking into the intersection of marriage and politics. For instance:

LAKE: We asked married men and married women: Do you usually vote the same way as your spouse? And 73 percent of married men said confidently yes, and 49 percent of married women say yes. And I call that the “sure honey” factor.

Lake talks about one of the most striking consequences of the low marriage rate: the number of unmarried women who are having children. She tells us that in 1980, 18 percent of births were to unmarried women, while the number today is just over 40 percent. There are inevitable economic ramifications to such a dramatic shift:

LAKE: Two-thirds of unmarried women say that there was some basic cost that they had in their families that they couldn’t make ends meet in the last year. They couldn’t pay the bill compared to 40 percent of married mothers.

For  years, marriage has been promoted as a way to fight poverty, particularly for women with children. But would these mothers be better off if they were married? The answer isn’t clear.

What is clear is that the old model of marriage is nowhere near as attractive as it once was. So how about a new model? What would happen if marriage were treated more like an employment contract?

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February 25, 2014 · 12:57 pm

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