Why Same-Sex Marriage Makes Sense Economically

Here is an interesting little article I found and wanted to share.

What do you think? And not just emotionally.

I think the writer makes some really fascinating points.

Why Same-Sex Marriage Makes Sense Economically

By Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers

The national discussion about same- sex marriage is heating up. Just last week, North Carolina voted to prohibit the practice, and, for the first time, President Barack Obama clearly came out in favor of it.

The debate, which has focused on our evolving views on sexuality, also mirrors a deeper generational shift in how we view and experience marriage.

For our grandparents’ generation, marriage was about separate roles, separate spheres and specialization. Gary Becker, an economist at the University of Chicago, won the Nobel Prize partly for describing the family as an economic institution — a bit like a small firm that employs people with different skills to produce both income and a well-run household.

In Becker’s view, the joining of husband and wife yields a more productive firm, because it allows one spouse to specialize in earning income from working in the market, while the other specializes in the domestic sphere. The division of labor allows for greater productivity, just as it does in the workplace. The different skills required for these separate roles provide an economic rationale for the advice your grandmother may have offered, that “opposites attract.”

Traditional Notion

Naturally, couples who have bought into the traditional notion of marriage — with women taking care of the home and men financially supporting them — find the concept of same-sex marriage foreign. Same-sex relationships are less likely to involve traditional roles and separate spheres, as evidenced by the fact that the partners are more likely to both work outside the home.

But heterosexual couples in more recent generations are also less likely to aspire to separate-sphere marriages. Economists describe a “second Industrial Revolution” in which washing machines, dishwashers and microwave ovens have reduced the value to the family “firm” of employing a domestic specialist. Cheap clothes can be imported from China, rather than sewn at home. Healthy meals can be purchased from the freezer at Trader Joe’s.

What’s more, legal and social changes have broken down many of the barriers keeping women out of the labor market. Explicit discrimination has declined. Women have gained more control over their fertility.

All these developments have increased the opportunity cost of having a spouse stay home, because that spouse now has greater value in the marketplace. As a result, our grandparents’ marriages, in which husband and wife have separate roles and spheres, are no longer so popular. Two-earner couples have become the norm, and families spend less time on housework.

One might have expected marriage to disappear as its traditional benefits faded. Instead, it has evolved.

Modern marriage offers different benefits. Today, we search for a soul mate rather than a good homemaker or provider. We are more likely to regard marriage as a forum for shared experiences and passions.

Viewed through an economic frame, modern partnerships are based upon “consumption complementarities” — the joy of sharing things and experiences — rather than the production-based gains that motivated traditional marriage. Consistent with this, co- parenting has replaced the separate roles of nurturer and disciplinarian.

We have called this new model of sharing lives “hedonic marriage.” These are marriages of equality in which the rule “opposites attract” no longer applies in the same way, because couples with more similar interests and values can derive greater benefits. So likes are now more likely to marry each other.

Changing Nature

The changing nature of heterosexual marriage has made the rite more attractive to same-sex couples. In turn, the gay and lesbian community has chosen to spend political capital advocating for greater access to marriage.

For heterosexuals who have embraced the modern notion of marriage, the idea of same-sex marriage seems natural. These couples aren’t any different from them. They love and support each other, raise kids together and are committed to each other. They share values, desires and interests. Not allowing them to marry is as arbitrary as not allowing couples of different races, ethnicities or religions to marry.

It is no coincidence that many of the opponents of same-sex marriage are also opponents of the ongoing shift to marriages of equality. Theirs is a futile battle. The reach of markets will keep expanding, allowing individuals and families to reap greater returns by selling their specialized skills and services outside the home. Technological change will further undermine the benefits of specialization within the family. Improvements in women’s education will continue to raise the opportunity cost of staying at home.

The implication is that ultimately, traditional marriages are doomed. And indeed, countries in which gender and social norms have been the slowest to evolve have seen the biggest declines in fertility and marriage.

The best way to let marriage thrive in the 21st century is to embrace the new model of equality and to welcome all couples, regardless of sexual orientation.

To contact the writers of this article: Justin Wolfers at jwolfers@wharton.upenn.edu Betsey Stevenson at betseys@wharton.upenn.edu



3 thoughts on “Why Same-Sex Marriage Makes Sense Economically

  1. Hm, yes, in fromer times it was really that way, a man married a woman to have someone to clean the house to make the food and being there if he comes home from work. My grandparents, the parents from my father, was like that. Their marriage hadn´t anything to do with love.
    Today, and to me the reason to marry someone, is to love someone, to share my life with him because I feel something for him… not to have someone who go working and earn the money…
    I agree with this article, people and marriage has changed, the most of my co-worker, male co-worker, have wives who work too. And the female co-workers, the most of them have a husband and do work.. to earn more money, to be more free from their husbands, no matter how much they love them. A woman today don´t want to sit at home and just make the laundry and make dinner.. but it seems like that´s the idea especial the Church has what a woman has to do… nothing else, because that´s the only reason women exists… in their eyes. 😦
    In real life, marriage should be about love, and love is just love, no matter if gay, lesbian, bi, straight, transgender… love is love and if all those haters needs more aguments to open their mind, they should read this article… 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!
    BTW yesterday I spoke with my father about Obama, what he said about gay marriage.. although my father is very narrow-minded sometimes, he said: And what´s the problem, why not let gay people marry each other?
    I was suprised in a positive way…

  2. I think it’s a shame that any form of marriage is seen in economic terms, although I realise that many marriages take place for legal, rather than romantic, purposes. I also think it’s a shame that single income families simply isn’t an option for most couples in modern times. Progress.

  3. I’m thinking historically rather than contemporarily.

    They talk about marriage contracts because that is often what they were. Not just at the higher levels of society but amongst tradesmen and farmers too. Love wasn’t such an issue – we’ve been brainwashed to expect it. Instead you married the woman whose father gave you access to a patch of land that adjoined yours, or the daughter of the man with the pedigree bull who would let it run with your cows, or the daughter of the man whose horses and carts could take your goods to market. Every woman had a dowry – a gift that was given to her husband on their wedding day – and these were often sharply negotiated beforehand. Once married she would run the household, supply kids etc, but for many people it was first and foremost a business arrangement.

    So much for the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, eh?

    Love matches did happen, and have become the norm since the 20th century, but for much of our history men have wanted a strong healthy fertile skilled housewife plus how many sheep? That attitude hung on in rural areas. Where I was brought up, and within my life time, it was common for parents to pay for their daughter to have all her teeth removed, healthy ones too, and be fitted with false teeth so her husband wouldn’t have to be bothered with dealing with her dental problems [plus she probably gave better head, though that was never mentioned].

    I have been a traditional housewife [during times of unemployment and when the kids were small] and bore the sneers about being a parasite as stoically as I could. Getting a job and going to work meant I was told off for being a bad and uncaring parent. You can’t win.

    At least if a gay or lesbian or trans couple are together it’s because they really truly WANT to be.

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