Justin Wolfers on Recessions and the Economics of Marriage

Josh Wright —  14 October 2010

As per usual, Justin Wolfers is there to clean up misconceptions about the data and explain what is really going on.  As it turns out, claims that recessions have killed marriage have been grossly exaggerated.  Here’s a picture Justin shows to demonstrate the point (the gray bars are recessions).

Also interesting on the economics of marriage, here is Justin’s NY Times Op-Ed explaining trends in the marriage rate and the “hedonic model” of marriage proposed by Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson, i.e. marriage based on complementarities rather than the “opposites attract” model of specialization:

It used to be that a typical marriage involved specialized roles for the husband and wife. Usually he was in the marketplace, and she was in the home, and this arrangement led to maximum productivity.

But today, when families have easy access to prepared foods, inexpensive off-the-rack clothing and labor-saving technology from the washing machine to the robot vacuum cleaner, there’s much less benefit from either spouse specializing in homemaking. Women, now better educated and with greater control over their fertility, are in the marketplace, too, and married couples have more money, more leisure time and longer lives to spend together. Modern marriages are based not on the economic benefits of playing specialized roles but on shared passions.

This new model of “hedonic marriage” has had an effect on who marries, and when — as research I have conducted with my better half, the economist Betsey Stevenson, has documented. In the old days, opposites attracted; an aspiring executive groom would pair up with a less-educated bride. And they would wed before the stork visited and before the couple made the costly investment of putting the husband through business school.

Great stuff.

One response to Justin Wolfers on Recessions and the Economics of Marriage


    I have to disagree with their findings, at least partially. True, perhaps people get married for different reasons today, but I think people have by and large lost the will or the fortitude to deal with the ups and downs of a lasting marriage. If a couple is married for 40 years, what kind of curve balls does life throw at them? Two people have to be determined that, no matter what, they will find a way to make it work, and people are no longer patient enough or committed enough to do that.