Why the Rise of Women Means They Marry Later

Today The Economist discusses the conflicting views on marriage between younger and older Chinese generations. Younger women in particular appear to receive increasing pressure from their families to marry and marry young, while the women themselves would prefer to wait (and be choosier). The trend goes hand in hand with rising empowerment and better career prospects for women.

What’s happening? Three things are at play here (and were missed by The Economist.)

#1 Marriage is no longer an economic necessity for women. With women earning their own living, marriage becomes a nice-to-have, from formerly a must-have.  In this situation, not only is the urgency gone, but different factors govern women’s choices. This is the situation of the young women. While the older generation may still perceive a world of must-have marriages.

#2 Professional women have other things to do. As I pointed out here, many professional, attractive, intelligent women are single at a marry-able age, and those who marry, marry later than the population average. Science says they also have better things to do than the population average. If a date competes with work that is fulfilling, bodes success and a higher income – then the date better be at least as fulfilling, easy-to-present-to-others, and liquid. Of course work and relationships fulfill different needs – but they also compete for the same, scarce resource: time. Professional women have less time and higher demands for relationships, given their alternative options. Both together are likely to keep them single.

#3 In China in particular, women wait because they can. Already in the 1990s, scientists reported skewed sex ratios at birth in China. Now, the gap between the genders is a sizeable ‘gulf’.  In this situation, with more men competing for fewer women, the gentle gender determines the rule of the game. And that likely involves waiting for their best bet. On their terms.

Are You The Odd Woman (or Man) Out? – 5 Things to Get You Into The Game

Clara is a beautiful woman of 38 years, well above average in looks, intelligence and success. With her golden brown hair and small round nose she looks kind of seasonal now – a bit angelic. Still, she is without a partner and in her social circles, feels like the odd woman out. Basically all men her age are partnered and the very few, who are not, objectively do not meet Clara’s attractiveness on any scale.  It feels like a matching game has been played and she was left out.

If Clara looks around her workplace and friends she will see that there is indeed a surplus of single women in her age range. (She works in a prestigious NGO.) This of course puts her at a disadvantage: if she has to compete with women for fewer available men, she will have to trade below par, or, in plain terms, lower her expectations below what she could get in a more gender balanced environment.

Therefore recommendation number 1 for Clara:

  1. Meet more people. Widen your circle of friends: you can re-discover a forgotten hobby, learn a sport you always wanted to – or start any new activity you are interested in to meet new people who are likely to become friends. More precisely:
  2. Seek out activities where the opposite gender is numerous. So, as a woman check out sports, outdoors, computer related hobbies and about everything that involves speed: car racing, speed boats and space tourism. (Examples courtesy of my husband.) As a man, seek out literature, the arts, yoga, zumba, prancercise and philanthropy. For example. Biking and running groups should work for both genders. And if you are really serious about settling down in the near future:
  3. Mind your values. In addition to the activities that just widen your circle, make sure to include some that foster values that are dear to you. Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples should have activities for singles. Causes like the environment, fair trade, mentoring of at risk youth can also help find and bond with kindred spirits.
  4. Focus on the essential. Arm yourself with a checklist of values and characteristics your partner would need to embody. I recommend between 3 and 8 – neither too few nor too many. You need to keep a mental note of these criteria with you at all times. People that don’t meet the list are out and have no claim on your (dating-) attention and time.
  5. Your dating objective first. If you are past 35 and unmatched, odds are that you gave generously of your time and attention to others, based on their need; maybe your family of origin, your work, or friends you felt needed you. These are all worthy claimants, but it’s time to re-focus on your own objectives. Your time and attention are first of all your own and you can employ them where you feel they best help you. (In other words: the earlier you learn to say No, the earlier you will say Yes to the right person.)

Got money?

Who has got the money in your relationship? I mean, who has the capital? – The man, the woman? Who do you think has it in most male-female interactions?

Well, I am not talking money as in bucks or accounts. I am talking about assets much closer to a relationship: sexual capital. With the cold, indifferent mind of the economist, we need to acknowledge that the woman has it. Always had.

Here is why. There are markets for sexuality. Let’s leave values and emotions to one side just for a minute and imagine that sex is a commodity that can be sold and bought. Well, it can. There is prostitution, there is pornography, and both can be lucrative trades. Some economists even argue that marriage is a lifelong contract about selling sex. In the vast majority of cases, it is the man that is buying and paying a price, and the woman that is selling and receiving the money. Occasionally a man is selling, too, but usually to a man, and the market for that is pretty small. The big market for sex is women selling to men; visual material, audio material and physical actions. (And the marriage bed. There is evidence of monetary returns to marriage for women, but not men.) In short, the sexuality of a woman is an asset. It can be hired out and sold. The sexuality of a man – cannot.

Let this sink in for a while, ladies. YOU have got the capital. And you largely have control over the price: your offer is in short supply and men’s demand is, hm, high. Higher than you think. Higher than they want you to think, possibly. And you can regulate your supply. Here is a secret: any signal of scarcity increases the price. This is the whole secret behind guys wanting a woman that hasn’t had many men: a signal that her capital is in scarce supply. True, it matters if you are surrounded by willing or less willing sisters, but you are much less substitutable than you think. And, paradoxically, scarcity signals make you less substitutable.

In countries where women don’t have much power they still hold sexual capital – and treasure it all the more. Hence the high regard for virginity in these places: a scarcity signal so strong it suggests a monopoly. Non-virgins don’t need to worry though; sexual capital is a renewable resource. As far as signaling goes, virgin is as virgin does (not did).

5 Things That Keep You Faithful

It’s wonderful to marry. It’s wonderful to be married. And in many cases it’s wonderful to stay married for life. There are the obvious exceptions when relationships become unbearable at least for one party. But there are also the break-ups that needn’t be. I don’t know how you feel about it, but I see many broken up marriages that could have been great. No abuse anywhere, two intelligent and loving people with great hope…but often – unfaithfulness creeping in out of nowhere.

Sometimes I see the first symptoms; partners not wearing their wedding band and giving a pretend-unmarried face to the world and their colleagues. When in reality they are very married. Or people sending mixed signals: no wedding band, but frequent mention of their partner. Unless the person is affiliated to a culture that doesn’t know the ring as a symbol – I don’t trust the wedding-band shirkers, also in matters unrelated to marriage.

So today’s column is about staying faithful. More precisely, about how to resist the temptation to the contrary. Our recommendations are inspired by recent research from a team of international sociologists, and actually apply to various areas of life:

  1. You can successfully say ‘No’ to temptation most of the time. Among common daily temptations (not necessarily for relationships, but for example for ice cream, internet surfing etc), people fail to resist only 17% of the time.
  2. But beware: self-control tires out. Resistance is a depleting reservoir. Failure occurs after many successful attempts to fend off temptation.  The main recommendation coming out of this is the next point:
  3. The best strategy to resist temptations is to avoid them altogether. In this way, you do not have to use your weakening resistance muscle, and can keep it ready for the unavoidable temptation. Faithful people work mainly by avoiding temptation, not by fighting it.
  4. Alcohol not only weakens resistance but actually makes temptation stronger. Stay away from alcohol and other mind-altering drugs. Also,…
  5. Stay away from people who yield to the temptations you want to avoid. Watching others succumb to a temptation makes you more likely to do the same. I guess, in the case of infidelity, which always involves two, this argument is even stronger: if you are around people who are ready to be unfaithful, it is more likely to happen to you.  – So, switch workplace, sports club or other circles if they have a high density of cheaters.

Time and Babies

Dear Economist,

my husband and I are planning to have a baby. Of course we already hear more advice than we want to. But what do you think: will a baby change our relationship? How? Will it make us happier?

Thank you, Veronica

Dear Veronica,

Let’s compare the pre-baby and post-baby worlds from an economist’s perspective. One basic economic choice to make is how much to work vs how much leisure to enjoy. More work means more money and more things you can consume; and it also means less leisure. In the pre-baby world, you and hubby have already made this choice. You chose a job, and with it a certain salary and a certain amount of work hours. If you and hubby care a lot about each other and about the same things, you likely arranged your work in a way that allows you to enjoy leisure together. This usually entails some sharing of chores, for example. (Compare this Daily Comment.)

As you already made this choice when entering post-baby world, your leisure hours are pretty fixed. Now, with a baby, a large chunk of one person’s leisure hours will be committed to baby care. There are different ways you can go about this, and some will likely make you happier than others. If you are not very interested in baby care, and assume the load alone, it will feel like a proportional reduction in your leisure time. Leisure gone and nothing in return – and you will likely be less happy than before. If you like baby care (as I assume you do, because you want a baby), then you will enjoy the hours of baby care, like nothing you ever experienced before. If your husband is of the same view, joint caring will be like leisure spent jointly and much fun. And it will strengthen your relationship.

One caveat, even for the sunny scenario. Baby care, like any fun activity, has diminishing returns. A further hour spent on it is less fun than the first hour. What is more, in this particular case, the returns are very non-linear. I.e. after pretty much a plateau of reasonably high returns, they diminish markedly and care can become very tiring. It is a good idea to find out (and be honest about) this inflection point for yourself and husband. Make sure to involve help for the hours beyond this point, from a baby sitter, grandparents or others. You, hubby and also your kids will be the happier for it..

Your Economist

 

Who tells the truth, husbands or wives?

Scientists who collect survey data talk to a lot of people and ask them a lot of questions. That includes a lot of husbands and wives. Sometimes they ask the same question to both, but in separate meetings. For example about what the couple own, how they spend their time, how many kids they have and how many more they want.

What is reassuring is that husbands and wives give mostly the same answers. For nearly any question, 100% of husbands and wives agree on what is going on (says some recent research on this).

On some questions however, husbands and wives disagree more. Some of these are on opinions, like ‘how big do you want your family to be?’ It’s quite possible that couples do not agree. Or maybe they don’t talk much about it. But others are about clear facts, as in: do you use contraception? In the cited research, men tended to paint a more socially popular picture than their wives, on questions related to family planning and sexual health.

Hm. Maybe due to context. Or maybe not.

What can be done? Well, the effect was actually more marked in areas where women had lower status relative to men. Areas with more equity between men and women showed more consistency.

Support in marriage = success in business

Haven’t we guessed it. A woman’s courage and success in business likely depend on the supportiveness of her husband. A husband that respects a woman’s personal ownership of things, and income, and decisions…. and that cooperatively supports her efforts, likely has a wife that invests (herself) more, takes more risks and is ultimately more successful.

In the same context, and provided with the same opportunities, women with and without supportive husbands can perform strikingly differently. This smart paper shows some preliminary evidence in that direction.

Inspired by these findings, dear lady daters, add to your list of criteria: he has to respect your decisions (and time, and property..), bargain fairly and help with your career goals.

Can you have a career and a happy family?

Today, dear readers, you get a reflective one. Not much evidence except anecdotal, but lots of reflection to make up for it.

Honest, do you know a hugely successful person that also has a home life you would want to emulate?

I used to have such role models in the past (e.g. an MD with four kids), but as I move up the ranks myself, MDs become less of a role model, and CEOs more so. Also, upon closer inspection, those four kids were not all as well adjusted as their mum. And as far as managers go…I seem to be seeing more childless, single and divorced people than at other hierarchy levels. Or people with a lifelong distance relationship; one CEO sees her partner once a month and considers that a relationship. Another variant is living together ‘for the kids’ but dropping the wedding band and normal marital interactions between the spouses; until the kids are grown and a divorce is less painful.

What is this? Does a parents’ high powered career zap the life out of couple communication? Does a job encroach so much upon spare time that people end up married to their job? Or is my perception not representative?

And what about the children’s growth path? Again, if you look at the anecdotes, successful parents often raise less successful kids. Warren Buffett’s daughter runs a (daddy-financed?) philanthropy, and his son is a farmer. Not that there’s anything wrong with farming. And Paris Hilton…well. The Clintons and maybe Mitt Romney seem to be an exception. Bill Gates’ kids are too young to tell.

Readers, this is one for you. Please share your observations via the comment function.

Men care about (their) children

How many split families do you know where the father plays a role after divorce? How big is that role?  – If your perspective is anywhere near mine, the role probably differs for each case you know. Sometimes by choice, and sometimes, depending on where the couple resided, by law. Not all countries and federal states recognize joint custody.

Researchers recently found out that this custody law not only matters for divorce but also for marriage. Men adjust their behavior depending on the law: whether they marry at all, how many kids they have, if any, and how they behave in marriage. By all appearances, the evidence looks like men gain in bargaining power if they can have joint custody. At least the men that care about kids. On the plus side that means they are more eager to marry, have kids and have them in a marriage, and have less recourse to domestic violence. The catch is that they also divorce more easily once married and keep women at home rather than encouraging them to work.

On balance, not a bad deal for both sides.

A Marriage Premium for Men

When economists talk about returns to marriage, they usually refer to women. There is good evidence that women, on average, ‘earn’ from marrying, through the husband’s higher wage. There is even a return to education that women can reap through marriage: highly educated women meet highly educated men (at university for example) i.e. the men who earn more than the less educated. (In some parts of the world, this will be the only return to education women will ever reap; nada with working outside the home.)

The news is that men, too, earn a marriage premium. But they earn it themselves. Here is how the story goes. Men who wish to marry make an effort in their job and by the time they marry, they actually have managed to improve their earnings. Marriage is enticing, and working towards it improves men’s professional and economic status. “If there were no returns to career choices in the marriage market, men would tend to work less, study less, and choose blue-collar jobs over white-collar jobs” writes Eric Gould who studied the subject.

There is of course the risk that you pick up the fact that more prosperous men marry more easily anyway (and got prosperous by other motivations). But Eric Gould controlled for this issue and managed to strip out the domino chain that links the prospect of marriage to effort rather than the other way round. Only pitfall: the effect only works for average and lower earning men; highly earning men do not improve themselves by dreaming about marriage, they are already motivated.