Monday, April 19, 2010

How Marriage Helps The Economy

Looking for Long-Term Dividends? Try Marriage

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"People who are married tend to save more and are more cautious in their spending."

One of the oldest axioms of married life is that two can live more cheaply than one. That may sound like stretching a point, but the facts at least support the notion that, for a variety of reasons, a married couple can stretch a dollar bill a lot farther than two people living on their own. Perhaps the axiom should be: two can live more cheaply as one.

The fact that two can live more cheaply as one is not only a good reason for so many mergers at the altar, but for so many mergers in the business world. Hard-nosed business people know that there are a lot of cost savings to be had in merging with similar businesses.

The same is true of marriage. And living in one residence rather than two is just one of the reasons. People who are married tend to save more, and they are more cautious in their spending (a young husband is a lot less likely to blow the family income on a fancy sports car if he has a budget-minded wife looking over his shoulder).

Married couples enjoy another economic benefit: specialization. When you’re married, you don’t have to “do it all.” People in marriage can specialize in doing what they do best, and let their spouses do the rest – assuming, of course, that the chores are divided fairly. And when one gets sick, the other is there to pick up the slack.

The term “economy” derives from the Greek word for household management. The toil and drudgery of managing the home itself has been relieved somewhat by modern machinery, but the need for skill in raising children, educating them, and preparing them for the challenge of having families of their own is just as compelling as it has been at any time in history. In fact, with the temptations facing children outside the home today, the need for skill in household management is perhaps greater than ever.

Family life helps the economy

Family life is good for the economy, not to mention for society. Despite the growth of big business firms, the family is still a great training ground for the kind of virtues that lead to successful careers. Family life teaches perseverance, cooperation, the ability to get along with others, and respect for authority – all virtues that are valued highly in any workplace.

Business people are gradually learning the importance of good family backgrounds. Graduate business schools try to teach ethics to their students, but have found that unless their students have developed a deep, internalized sense of ethics while growing up, they are unlikely to profit from an academic presentation of the subject.

In other words, ethical leaders are home-grown, and the values they take with them into the institutions of life are learned mostly by the advice and example of their parents and brothers and sisters.

Married men earn more

Married men are not only more ethical businessmen, they also earn more. According to The Case for Marriage, a book published in 2000, “husbands earn at least 10 percent more than single men do and perhaps as high as 40 percent more.” The authors, Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, cite another study which found that married men, age 55 to 64, earned 20 to 32 percent more than their non-married counterparts.

The earnings gap certainly seems understandable. Married men, even those whose wives work, have dependents to support, so they are more apt to search for jobs that pay well. The pay differential works both ways. Not only do men who need to make more search for jobs that pay more, but companies search for men whose need to earn more makes them more likely to stick to their jobs.

Single men have more freedom to jump from job to job in a search for the perfect career that will satisfy their need for greater meaning in their work. Married men, often the main breadwinners, find that supporting their families lends meaning to their work, and for that reason, are the more stable employees.

David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, sees the same factors at work for men and women. As he put it in an interview with USAToday, married people “work harder, they advance further in their job, they save more money, and maybe invest more wisely. That’s because, one can speculate, they are now working for something larger than themselves. They are working for a family.”

The value of a durable marriage is seen even more clearly by those who split apart. Jay Zagorsky, a Ohio State University researcher, found that couples who divorce give up more than what one might expect to be half of everything they own: they actually lose roughly 75 percent of their personal net worth. The same results were found in a 2006 report by the Rutgers project: a 73 percent drop in wealth for those who divorced and didn’t remarry – and a 75 percent drop in wealth for those who never married.

Marriage is a long-term commitment. For those who are willing to make the commitment, and stick with it, marriage is an institution that will yield long-term dividends.

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