When economists investigate marriage I


Economists don't have a reputation for being exceedingly sexy. They weren't perceived as funny either, but not long ago a "stand-up economist" popped up. Here we're looking at two studies where economists try to figure marital bliss.

desperate housewives Back in 2008, one such luminary, Professor Peter Thompson, published a study advising married women to open secret bank accounts and start to cheat on their husbands to avoid becoming desperate housewives. He thinks that men, though they might try to change, cannot, and will always dump all house work on women and as a result women will always end up miserable. His solution for women is to “raise the value of walking away from the marriage” by improving their lot, including having affairs and making more money, which he believes “forces the husband to behave better in the long term”.

He believes that even though men may promise to change their ways in order to save an unhappy relationship, they are unlikely to stick to their pledges and so their wives will remain miserable.

The economist concludes that rather than going for couples' therapy, women are better off making themselves happy by having affairs or getting a better job.

He believes this will put them in a better position should they divorce, and also acts as a weapon to make their husbands behave better.

Prof Thompson, of Florida International University in the US, said: "Desperate housewives should forget about trying to improve their marriage.

"Instead, they should work on whatever would make them happy after divorce: better jobs, more friends, secret bank accounts or extramarital relationships.

"Making divorce more appealing makes for a happier marriage. It's what Gabrielle Solis and her friends in the TV show Desperate Housewives are working on."

In his paper, Prof Thompson claims that couples usually agree about how their marriage should go when they wed.

But their differing experiences of marriage cause them to change their beliefs, with young brides and grooms more likely to fall out and split up.

He argues that women are less happy in marriages than men, and more likely to file for divorce, because they typically make larger compromises than their husbands.

Prof Thompson concedes that men sometimes agree to make the marriage more equal in a bid to stop their unhappy wives jilting them, but he adds that they "cannot commit to future behaviour" and will "revert to type at the earliest opportunity".

As a result, their wives will remain unhappy and marital counselling will only provide a temporary boost.

He suggests that women should "raise the value of walking away from the marriage" by improving their lot, including having affairs and making more money, which he believes "forces the husband to behave better in the long term".

His paper, called Desperate Housewives: Communication Difficulties and the Dynamics of Marital (Un)Happiness, is published in the new edition of the Economic Journal.

Closer to the present and picking up where Thompson left off, a team of economists found that marriages last when the husband is less happy than the wife, but almost always fail when the wife is unhappy. This also seems to match divorce statistics, which are, as some claim, started mostly by women and very seldom by men. They call this the “Happiness Gap”.

Using data from tens of thousands of relationships in three different countries, they discovered that the bigger the difference in the happiness of husbands and wives the greater the risk of a break-up.

Crucially, this effect was seen only when the husband was feeling better about life than his wife.

And in those cases, it was more likely that the unhappy wife would start divorce proceedings.

The finding was made after experts looked at previous economic and "lifestyle satisfaction" studies of people living in Britain, Germany and Australia.

The happiness gap widened when wives were lumbered with most of the housework, if they had different social backgrounds to their husbands, or if they had higher than average incomes.

But the gap was closed when couples were matched in social backgrounds, if they had a common religion, if the chores were shared or if the woman was a housewife, a student or retired.

One of the team, Dr Cahit Guven, an expert in wellbeing and economics from Deakin University, Australia, believed marriage was stronger when couples were in the same "happiness tier", meaning they felt as good about life as each other.

He said, "Previous studies have shown that couples who marry with similar levels of schooling, age, country of origin, ethnicity, religion and social background have longer marriages," he said.

"In Australia for instance 53 per cent of women of the highest happiness tier were married to men in the same tier.

"In the UK 61 per cent of women in the highest tier are married to men in the same tier and this number is 70 per cent in Germany.

"Our research tends to support this view, and also shows that unlike other benefits in a marriage, happiness isn't able to be redistributed between the husband and the wife for those couples whose relationship ended with divorce."

The figures also showed that the happiness gap was "several times wider" in couples who were living together compared with those who were legally married.

The results were published in Germany in an economic report called "You Can't Be Happier Than Your Wife. Happiness Gaps and Divorce".

Understanding economy, economists and their studies seems to be integral to marital bliss. Yet there is some sort of silliness to all this. Do we need a study to tell us that marriages of people with similar backgrounds are more solid? We’re also told that the happiness gap was also wider in non-married couples.

Rather than reading this study, people would do much better to listen to Alice Cooper’s song Only Women Bleed:

Man’s got his woman

To take his seed

He’s got the power

She’s got the need

Obviously, this is something that everybody knows, but in our PC-suffocated times nobody dares to admit it: most women need and crave the security of marriage more so than men. Economists tell us that in an open market, those who are willing and capable to do the jobs that other can’t or won’t command a higher salary. Shouldn’t the same logic apply to marriages? If women and men are both free to choose whether to stay married or to divorce, the party that needs marriage more will make more compromises. This seems to be a fact, at least as far as I’ve been able to observe.

A seemingly interesting question is whether women find themselves in this situation because of societal pressure / education. My view is that though that plays a role, there is something deeper here. As kibbutz studies have shown, even while give an equivalent, egalitarian, desexualized education, girls will turn into temptresses in boys into aggressive purveyors of sperm recipients. In most societies, we emphasize and promote gender differences, but they are already there to begin with.

Enjoy Alice Cooper and the covers that followed: Nina Simone, Tori Amos, Tina Arena, Madeleine Martin!

Sources / More info: telegraph-happiness-gap, telegraph-desperate-housewives, yt-only-women

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