Treating Marriage like a Luxury Good

In the United States, the median age of marriage has been climbing for decades. In 1960 the median age of first marriage for men and women was 22.8 and 20.3 respectively. Fast forward to 2019 and the median ages are 29.8 and 28. Here are the historical tables.

Qualitative studies that interview young people suggest they are waiting on marriage until their careers get underway. Marriage is now something you do once you have a high income. But, this treats marriage as if it were a consumption good.

Consider this blog post from Brides.com,

“With the rising cost of living, mountains of student loan debts, and a lack of job security, some of us just aren’t financially in a position to get married or settled down until we’re a little older.”

What is striking is how marriage is not viewed as a productive and helpful institution to overcome these obstacles in life. This runs contrary to the literature on the Economics of the Family that documents how marriage facilitates gains from trade, risk pools like an insurance policy, and allows couples to take advantage of economies of scale.

Yes, you can obtain some of these advantages with cohabitation but not at the same level of commitment.

This view of marriage as a luxury that is only consumed when your career and finances are in order is harmful because it leads to less opportunity. Marriage is productive and expands our possibilities.

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