Monday, August 22, 2011

Marriage supply and demand, and equilibrium behavior

Two recent posts caught my eye. The first, by Robert Frank in the NY Times, speculates on how the baby boom may have changed sexual mores in the U.S., and reports on a recent article about the imbalance of men and women in China and the behavioral changes this may be causing: Supply, Demand and Marriage .

The second, by Ralph Richard Banks in the WSJ, speaks about the marriage behavior of black men and women in the U.S., and relates it to the reluctance of black women to marry non-black men, and their resulting shortage of marriage partners: An Interracial Fix for Black Marriage

Here's Frank:
"In the United States, the end of World War II and the return of millions of troops set off the baby boom. In the second half of the 1940s, the population swelled by almost 14 percent, versus growth of less than half of 1 percent during the first half of the decade. By the mid-1960s, many of those babies were reaching the traditional marriage age.

"At the time, it was American custom for women to marry men several years older than themselves. In a typical wedding in 1969, for example, the bride might have been born in 1947 and the groom in 1943. Because of that custom, women at the leading edge of the baby boom confronted a significant shortfall of potential marriage partners.
...
""Before the 1960s, cultural norms encouraged celibacy before marriage. The breakdown of those norms has been widely attributed to the introduction of oral contraception...
"The supply-and-demand model bolsters the skeptics’ concerns. ... The sexual revolution, which bent cultural norms toward male preferences, may thus be partly explained by the excess demand for grooms in the 1960s."

And here's Banks:
"Nearly 70% of black women are unmarried, and the racial gap in marriage spans the socioeconomic spectrum, from the urban poor to well-off suburban professionals. Three in 10 college-educated black women haven't married by age 40; their white peers are less than half as likely to have remained unwed.

"What explains this marriage gap? As a black man, my interest in the issue is more than academic.
...
"Black women confront the worst relationship market of any group because of economic and cultural forces that are not of their own making; and they have needlessly worsened their situation by limiting themselves to black men. I also arrived at a startling conclusion: Black women can best promote black marriage by opening themselves to relationships with men of other races.
...
"Part of the problem is incarceration. More than two million men are now imprisoned in the U.S., and roughly 40% of them are African-American. At any given time, more than 10% of black men in their 20s or 30s—prime marrying ages—are in jail or prison.
Educationally, black men also lag. There are roughly 1.4 million black women now in college, compared to just 900,000 black men. By graduation, black women outnumber men 2-to-1. Among graduate-school students, in 2008 there were 125,000 African-American women but only 58,000 African-American men. That same year, black women received more than three out of every five law or medical degrees awarded to African-Americans.

"These problems translate into dimmer economic prospects for black men, and the less a man earns, the less likely he is to marry. That's how the relationship market operates. Marriage is a matter of love and commitment, but it is also an exchange. A black man without a job or the likelihood of landing one cannot offer a woman enough to make that exchange worthwhile.

"But poor black men are not the only ones who don't marry. At every income level, black men are less likely to marry than are their white counterparts. And the marriage gap is wider among men who earn more than $100,000 a year than among men who earn, say, $50,000 or $60,000 a year.

"The dynamics of the relationship market offer one explanation for this pattern. Because black men are in short supply, their options are better than those of black women. A desirable black man who ends a relationship with one woman will find many others waiting; that's not so for black women."

HT: Sangram Kadam

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