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CROUSE: Best recession insurance: Marriage

Americans rediscovering the original and best social safety net

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Illustration by Alexander Hunter for The Washington Times

Economists refer to the economic benefit that accrues to married couples as the “marriage premium.” A recent CBS television special asked the question, “Why is marriage such an economic turn-on?” The program “MoneyWatch” gave three reasons based on a report from the Pew Research Center’s report, “Women, Men and the New Economics of Marriage”:

Economies of scale: Married couples share the cost of necessary expenses, such as health insurance, utility bills and mortgage payments. That is especially significant today when more than two-thirds of men have working spouses and 22 percent of wives make more than their husbands.

Married couples earn more: From 1970 to 2007, the median household income for married couples rose more than incomes for unmarried couples. The mutual support that couples give each other and their mutual stake in the relationship means they work together toward their financial goals.

Married couples invest better: Married women invest in stocks more than unmarried women and, as couples, they “invest more, save more and are more future-oriented.”

Even during the current economic downturn, married couples are discovering that marriage is a safe haven. According to The Washington Post, the recession that began in 2007 “exposed an economic factor” (i.e., lower unemployment rates of married men and women) that had pushed ahead of more romantic reasons for marriage, such as “emotional intimacy, sexual satisfaction and individual happiness.”

Alex Roberts, writing for the Institute for American Values, notes that marriage is especially important for poor and working-class couples who of late have been “drifting farther and farther away from the institution of marriage.” He contends that marriage, while still economically advantageous, is not economically necessary now that women are so prevalent in the work force. Ironically, this social circumstance has merely changed the dynamics of marriage; it has not changed the demand for marriage. According to Mr. Roberts, women with greater economic resources are now significantly more likely to marry; they just marry for different reasons - they marry for companionship, not for financial benefits.

Other researchers take a different perspective and argue that the hard financial times are increasing the importance of finding a mate with money. A study at the University of Iowa found that being a “good financial prospect” is increasingly important to men looking for a mate. For men, this attribute ranked No. 12 on a 2008 list of desirable attributes, while for women it ranked No. 10. Ironically, having a fancy car and other status symbols enhances a man’s marital odds while it does not work well for a woman to have those same status symbols when seeking marriage.

In their report on “Money and Marriage,” the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values observe that the current recession seems to be “solidifying, not eroding” the marital bond for most couples - the divorce rate is falling as couples realize that as they make it through this rough time, they are learning to compromise and, thus, can stick it out. Indeed, a Pew Research survey found that 4 in 10 Americans report that the recession has brought their family “closer together.” In other words, said W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, “Americans are discovering the power that family ties have to carry them - financially, socially and emotionally - through tough times.” In fact, a recent article made four recommended priorities for success and well-being in these difficult times. The first recommendation: reduce the number of unmarried adults.

“The economic downturn reminds us that marriage is more than an emotional relationship. It’s also an economic partnership and a social safety net,” said Mr. Wilcox.

Janice Shaw Crouse is author of “Children at Risk” (2010) and the just-released “Marriage Matters,” both published by Transaction.

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