Whence comes this sudden wave of economic determinism?

All of a sudden it is pulled out of the closest as a weapon against Charles Murray, such as by Paul Krugman (and here and here), Rortybomb, David Frum, and others.  Bryan Caplan brings some sanity to the debate:

I’m baffled by people who blame declining marriage rates on poverty.  Why?  Because being single is more expensive than being married.  Picture two singles living separately.  If they marry, they sharply cut their total housing costs.  They cut the total cost of furniture, appliances, fuel, and health insurance.  Even groceries get cheaper: think CostCo.

These savings are especially blatant when your income is low.  Even the official poverty line acknowledges them.  The Poverty Threshold for a household with one adult is $11,139; the Poverty Threshold for a household with two adults is $14,218.  When two individuals at the poverty line maintain separate households, they’re effectively spending 2*$11,139-$14,218=$8,060 a year to stay single.

But wait, there’s more.  Marriage doesn’t just cut expenses.  It raises couples’ income.  In the NLSY, married men earn about 40% more than comparable single men; married women earn about 10% less than comparable single women.  From a couples’ point of view, that’s a big net bonus.  And much of this bonus seems to be causal.

More plausibly it is the rise in female income (among other factors, including the rise of birth control, read more here) which is behind the decline in marriage, but that doesn’t fit with traditional mood affiliation, which finds the rise in female income to be good (which it is), and the decline in marriage to be — neither good nor bad per se but not exactly worth celebrating.  If you can blame capitalism and wage stagnation for the decline of the family among lower earners, so much the better for ideology but as a sociological proposition that is a very weak hypothesis (do you see convincing links to real sociological evidence, showing this to be the dominant factor? No) and as Caplan shows it doesn’t fit with the economics either.

Remind me again, how is wage stagnation supposed to explain the pronounced decline in religiosity, among lower earners, as shown by Murray?  It’s well-known that a secular outlook is a normal good, and that on average poorer countries are more religious than wealthier countries.

I’m struck by how many people are offering negative comment on the new Murray book who have not read it, or who do not appear to have read it.  I found it to be a much less controversial book than the commentary makes it seem, and actually I had stopped thinking about it, except for all the negative reviews I see it getting.  It is unpopular because it disrupts current moral narratives about economic and social decline, as much on the right as on the left I might add, not because it is relying on dubious facts.  It is simply redescribing inequality through a somewhat different lens.  There’s much less at stake here than meets the eye.

Maybe I should not even be responding, but then again I am a determinist and does not Karl Smith have a good forecasting record to date?


With the averag cost of a wedding being more than the annual income at the poverty line I think it's pretty easy to see why working class marriage rates are declining.

As well, u do realize that many of these individuals are cohabitating but just not getting married right?

It has everything to do with income. This is very much a case of the rich trying to justify inequality by claiming those at the low end deserve it because they are morally deficient. Funny how moral decline isn't thought to have anything to do with the rise in inequality

lol. Poor people get married at the waffle house. They don't need to blow 50k on an expensive party like professional white women.

Cohabitation is an important factor, but its not like its replacing marraige. And the majority of it ends fairly quickly, certainly not long enough to raise a kid.

I think Caplan's being simplistic. The poor may postpone marriage for several reasons: the high cost of marriage being one.

Marriage also makes the job-seeking problem complex: harder to pack your bags and move to where the jobs are. Delaying in the hope of being less poor next year let's one explore a larger (better?) partner set perhaps?

Maybe the burden of a subsequent alimony is less painful if one's not already at the poverty line?

In any case, if you can get the economic advantages by mere cohabitation (roommates, live in partners etc. ), why marry?

"Maybe the burden of a subsequent alimony is less painful if one’s not already at the poverty line? "

This is a big thing. If you don't make your payments, you go to jail. The poor are much more likely to lose a job and be unable to make payments.

The poor used to get married. If they no longer do so because they fear divorce and alimony, then this would support Murray's thesis that the changes are as much social as they are economic. (No-fault divorce, women's empowerment, etc.)

And money for children even if not married. Women get children and income without having to deal with a husband. Do we really want to deny child support to the unmarried though? It would likely increase the marriage rate though shorten its duration.

Alimony is very rare, outside the upper class. I've known plenty of people who divorced, but no one who ever got alimony.

Child support is another story (but nota bene: a marriage license is not a prerequisite). The child support is the closest thing to slavery we can squeak past the 13th Amendment.

I don't think it's the cost of getting married per se, that can easily be done on the cheap (and often is). I do think there is a sense among men that marriage is a raw deal for them, legally.

"I do think there is a sense among men that marriage is a raw deal for them, legally."

Not marriage per se, but divorce, which a bizarre number of people seem to see as the likely (if not inevitable) end of marriage.

Well, the statistic everyone refers to (don't know if it's accurate) is 50%. It may not be likely, but if that's the number you're measuring against, it's not unlikely either.

I think you're right; that's the number people think of. But that number is wrong, at least with respect to first marriages. Of course you may have a little bit of self-fulfilling prophecy too. If you think marriages are likely to end anyway, are you going to work as hard to keep it together? I dunno.

Leaving aside your last criticism, cohabitation is a comparable alternative.

"In any case, if you can get the economic advantages by mere cohabitation (roommates, live in partners etc. ), why marry?"

As Jesus said, they are married. Again, does that argue for PK's rebuttal?

Wait, what? The marriage rate is declining because somebody is forcing you to blow $25K (or more) on a wedding? Damn them! Damn the plutocrats to Hell! Why, I remember back when my Mom and step-dad were able to go into the local city hall and get married for a nominal fee! Who passed this law requiring lavish get-togethers, live DJs and ice sculptures? Who?

"Because being single is more expensive than being married." A false alternative: what a social dinosaur!

If you actually read Caplan, you might find the accounted for that other alternative by pointing to this paper.

Sure, there are savings of getting married in the long run. But, I think most people are far more conscious of the immediate costs of the ceremony, which easily run into the many thousands of dollars for even the simplest of ceremonies.

Actually, you're talking about the cost of a reception, not a wedding ceremony. In most of this country you can get married at the courthouse for less than $100; a lot less in some cases. Likewise, a lot of churches will marry you for free.

What percent of national weddings are receptionless? I suspect people value the reception component of a wedding equally or perhaps even more than the Church component.

Perhaps this is a feature not a bug: a $20,000 reception sunk cost is harder to write off than a $100 Church fee?

I'd buy that, except that I've been to a number of ridiculously extravagant wedding receptions, and not one of them was paid for by the couple getting married. Still you're probably right about the reception, but not the sunken cost issue. I have several friends who have done the courthouse thing too, and not on impulse. My sample size is admittedly limited, but I haven't noticed any difference in divorce rates. In any case, my point is if there is economic benefit to getting married, cost is not a barrier.

Mine was receptionless, at my wife's request.

Yes, I married well.

My wife and I had a cruise boat reception for 100 guests for around $7,000, which was less than the amount of cash we actually got as presents, and it was quite nice and everyone had fun. We just didn't have the reception at the Ritz because we were paying for it. Nothing wrong with that. I doubt we were the only ones.

"Picture two singles living separately. If they marry, they sharply cut their total housing costs. They cut the total cost of furniture, appliances, fuel, and health insurance."

The cost savings described here are not those of marriage, but of cohabitation.

If you read Caplan's post, he discusses the costs and benefits of cohabitation vs. marriage.

It seems that you have a lower threshold for discusses than I do. I would describe it as handwaving it away. Also, the shotgun wedding paper doesn't prove any sort of causality. Men who are likely to enter into shotgun marriages are likely desirable mates (they're worth getting into shotgun marriages) and also place a higher value on personal responsibility (because they are willing to get married to take care of their children). These factors also happen to be attractive to employers. Men who are baby daddy types tend to be less desirable than those that become husbands.

There is so much noise because Murray is basically a troll - master of using inflammatory language choices to bait opponents into having very strong reactions to fairly banal data points.

This is the school of conservatism that thinks things are good because they "enrage liberals". The intellectual Sara Palin if you will.

Had Murray put out his data set with the language choices you use, Tyler, I doubt we'd be talking about it.

Do you ever listen to NPR? I had the misfortune of hearing them talk about Komen yesterday and almost ended up like that guy on 'Scanners.'

Oh, and liberals get mad at Sarah Palin all by themselves. It was amazing to watch.

Stupidity is pitiable but pigheaded stupidity can be infuriating.

The only thing worse is smugly congratulating themselves that they have the monopoly on intelligence.

Speaking of pigheaded stupidity.

I think what really irked people about Sarah Palin is that a person who didn't signal smart didn't care what the people who signal smart think.

I don't care either.

Fail. What irked people about Sarah Palin is that she speaks with intellectual authority when it's pretty clear that her IQ would put her if not in the bottom half of the population, pretty close to the cutoff.

Again, in case the point wasn't clear above: being stupid is acceptable. Brandishing your stupidity as if it's something to be proud of - a.k.a. the new Republican populism - is irksome.

Two things: first, pointing to the wrongs of the other side does not make you right.

Second, as someone who was bothered by palinic stupidity, what bothered me was not the stupidity, nor the lack of care for smart opinion but the insistence that a lack of intelligence is one of the unique qualifications to lead this country.


Not that I want to step into this, but of all the things you could have been bothered by, you were most bothered by her branding? Isn't that a little bit meta? Is that really the biggest concern? Is this because that marketing choice suggested that you were not worth listening to, or were somehow invalidated? People do that all the time for folks who earn low six figures and nobody bats an eye. What was different here?

DS. When did Sarah Palin speak for intellectual authority?

FF: When did I say the wrongs of the other side make me right?

All I'm saying is that one side claims that their ideology goes hand-in-hand with their intellect and I try to point out obvious instances of their ideology without trying to be like them in their arrogance.

"Again, in case the point wasn’t clear above: being stupid is acceptable. Brandishing your stupidity as if it’s something to be proud of – a.k.a. the new Republican populism – is irksome."

I think this is where you guys fail. Populism when it is local knowledge is as right as elitism when it is devoid of general knowledge is wrong.


Was that her branding, or her? I think there is a huge difference between folksy and stupid. She was marketed as folksy, but by all accounts she wasn't at all smart (eg not reading newspapers/everything else she said and did).

As for being invalidated, I dont hold those illusions that my opinion matters. My bank account isn't big enough, and frankly, me and my family aren't going to be affected no matter who gets elected.

Bringing up NPR as evidence as a defense to murray's behavior. Also, I don't mean to be preachy, just to point out, but sentences such as "try to point out obvious instances of their ideology without... their arrogance" makes you seem arrogant not only with respect to your intelligence but your morals as well...

Regardless of what liberals think, do you like Sarah Palin? Would you vote for her over Obama?

Funny, I listened to the NPR interview with Charles Murray and thought it was very interesting, not at all inflammatory.

"Had Murray put out his data set with the language choices you use, Tyler, I doubt we’d be talking about it."

I haven't read the book and therefore have no opinion on the content, but if his banal data points (and the inflammatory language) are still true, and he can sell a lot more copies via the increased debate, then he and every other author are going to make that decision.

The whole point of Coming Apart was to avoid angering people. It's basically the Bell Curve minus the race issue.

Weren't there periods where religosity was declining but wages were not stagnated? Isn't the decline in religosity pretty much a global phenomenon, even in areas having high wage growth?

Why is there the urge to explain away religious decline on economic causes? Can't it be that people just became "smarter"?

Heresy! Arrest that man.

If they became "smarter", why do the smartest still go to chuch the most?

I believe Edward Simpson can answer that.

Or Pope Alexander VI.

Practical grounds? Isn't there a decent body of evidence that religion is "good for you"?

I'm guessing if I developed a delusion that Santa Claus exists I might be more virtuous during the year.

Social networking. Appearance of probity. Ambition as community leaders. Because other smart, rich people are doing it. Because your wealthy clients are doing it. Because you might even want to run for public office one day. Because members of your fraternity are doing it. Because your social set is doing it and it's the thing to do. Because your boss' boss is doing it. Because it allows you to don the uniform your political football team wears in public.

Yeah agreed in many places (particularly in the US I gather) if you don't go to Church you're basically cut out of the social network of the community. It's all a big game. That's why you have to live in the big city where this kind of social pressure has less power to exert itself.

No, there are just different games in the big city. It's all just a question of which games you're willing to play.

I know there's different games in the big city. But big city games are better.

Last time I checked, community and shared values were a giant part of what religion is.

"For the children"

First, I think you have a good point to start with. Religiosity seems to offer a poor fit, particularly when viewed with a wider time frame.

I will quibble to the last line. I think you would be closer with your initial "phenomenon" or perhaps something like taste or fashion than with "smarter."

No one reasonable person should consider men like Plato, Cicero, Aristotle, St Augustine, Constantine, Averroes, Maimonides, St Thomas Aquinas, Blaise Pascal, Isaac Newton or John Newman as "stupid" for believing in a god of some description or another--that is, they may have had different conceptions of what divinity was and the proper religion to answer that conception, but they all had some conception of a divine nature and that such Nature implied a kind of religious response.

Most people that refer to the "stupidity" of belief (or the "smartness" of unbelief) in God and the response of man to God (aka, religion) do not, I suspect, come to the conclusion after carefully weighing the arguments of Theodoret, Luther, Amyraut, or Bergier and then saying, "No, these men are all stupid. Epicurus--or perhaps Nietzsche--are much smarter and more compelling on the subject.

Instead they do so, undoubtedly like many people that believe, not out of individual or collective "smartness" or individual or collective "stupidity", but entirely reflexively--that is to say, unthinkingly.

You can probably find smart adherents for almost any stupid belief. Ignorance, indoctrination and wishful thinking can trump intelligence. I don't think belief in "a god of some description or another" (e.g. philosophical deism) is necessarily stupid, and certainly not for men who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago, before modern science. But belief in God as described by any of the traditional religions is pretty dumb.

What does having a car and a smartphone have to do with disproving God? This shows a very narrow conception of theology.

What does having a car and a smartphone have to do with disproving God?


Religiousity is only declining in the west: in the former ussr, in africa, and particularly in asia (china is experincing a massive boom in the number of christians) it is increasing. This may well be a good thing; religion increades social contections, among other things.

It could just be that in patterns of trade similar individuals who have familiar habits are more readily welcomed into the economic web. Cue the war on EVERYTHING.

How about a theory of sticky wedding and post marital consumption expectations on the part of brides to be?

This seems very, very wrong Tyler.

Bryan is obviously right about a marriage premium, but how does that invalidate Krugman's point. Assume 50/50 bargaining in marriage, $1,000 for a single person, and a $100 marriage premium. Bryan's point seems to be "Krugman is making no sense because $1,000 < $1,100.

But marriage has costs. It ties you to another person which can be very risky financially and psychologically. You give up autonomy. It's hard work (worth it in my experience, but still work). If we monetize the costs of marriage, say at $1,500, then it's obvious that Krugman (and Caplan for that matter) are right.

It's true that $1,000 < $1,100, but that's only the benefits and doesn't pay attention to costs. If the cost of marriage is $1,500, then Krugman is absolutely right that in an alternative macroeconomy where the working class earned $1,400 (and the marriage premium that Bryan points out is still $100), there would be a lot more marriage.

Pointing out the marriage premium doesn't counter a single word in Paul's post. The economy is a complex system - causality can work both ways.

I have more thoughts here: http://factsandotherstubbornthings.blogspot.com/2012/02/marriage-is-investment.html

And since you almost can't prove causality, does the revelation of correlation increase an assumption of causality a little?

I tried reading the __ posts. Couched in a lot of douchiness is nothing more than "correlation doesn't prove causation."

Well, I think we can get a pretty decent grasp of causality.

Bryan is telling a very convincing causal story.

The point is, Paul is too. Causality can work in both directions. Nothing in what Bryan or Tyler writes contradicts Krugman's point, and I'm not sure why they act like it does.

You seem to think you are disagreeing with Caplan, but you're not. What he actually said was that the economic determinism story does NOT explain the observable results, thus there must be other factors at play. The cost of commitment you bring up is one that Caplan brought up, too.

I agree with Caplan on the marriage premium.

I disagree with him when he says: "I’m baffled by people who blame declining marriage rates on poverty."

I take that to mean he thinks Krugman is wrong, of course. Perhaps I'm misinterpreting him and he agrees with Krugman.

In short, I agree with Krugman and Caplan, and disagree with Caplan only insofar as he disagrees with Krugman.

Caplan is saying that if you believe that economics determines marriage rates, you should see more poor people getting married and in higher rates (and with fewer divorces) than rich people; i.e., poverty should cause more marriages on the margin. Thus his bafflement that someone should insist on the reverse.

Wait - which posts are you calling douchy here? Caplan's or Krugman's?


That's not as informative as you might think it is.

Here's a clue: "David Frum, who may really be the last honest conservative, has a terrific takedown:"


Well you might have been referring to the "brings some sanity to the debate" and "economic determinism" lines, I don't know.

You really see equivalence between those?

The "baffled" line maybe, but not really.

We could get into whether Krugman is really blaming the economy on marriage rates or whether he's just pointing out a potential counterpoint, but does he do this in a playful way as Tyler tends to? And it's not about "my guy is nicer than your guy." If one guy is going to make it all about "duh, winning" then sooner or later the other guys have to, and we are all poorer.

"...and we are all poorer."

Wait, this from the guy that defended Sarah palin earlier in the thread?

To paraphrase,

What I think irks people about krugman is that a person who doesn't signal dumb doesn't care about what the people who signal dumb think.

Who defended Sarah Palin?

Sarah Palin was simply a vehicle for me to enjoy the artificial conflict.

Nobody knew who she was one minute, then people HATED her the next.

You realize that we have Joe Biden as VP, right?

What irks me about Krugman is that I can point out dumb statement after dumb statement and then people like you say "don't hate him because he's beautiful!"

Andrew calm down, don't hate Paul Krugman because he's beautiful

Marraige has always been hard, but people still did it. Its useful to ask why its either gotten harder or the reward has gotten lower.

Right - but there are two ways the reward could have gotten lower: (1.) earnings of working class decrease, or (2.) marriage premium decreased.

Bryan is arguing that because there's a marriage premium it still makes sense to marry in a bad economic environment.

What he seems to misunderstand is that if your earning power decreases too, that can be a substantial disincentive. It may not cover the costs of a commitment like that anymore.

That makes a lot more sense than assuming there's been some vacuum of "values" in the working class.

But that also bolsters Caplan's point. If your revenue goes down and costs go up, then cost savings become more important.

Krugman throws out a possible cause and thinks that disproves all the other explanations just because he showed up even though Caplan's point directly addresses Krugman's story. I'd more believe Krugman's story if he with with the women's POV rather than the men choosing not to marry because they can't be the perfect provider. But, that was left to TC to point out.

Yes, cost savings becomes more important, but that doesn't mean you're going to observe more marriage!!!!!!

As Krugman points out, there's been a lot of work on this with trends in the black community over the last several decades, and economic opportunity is crucially important to marriage trends. He's not pulling this out of thin air.

If you think a marriage premium can offset that, then make an argument for that position. But simply citing the existence of a marriage premium doesn't disprove Krugman the way these guys are implying.

It's not like Krugman would disagree that there's a marriage premium, after all.

"Yes, cost savings becomes more important, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to observe more marriage!!!!!!"

But are you going to observe less marriage? That's what PK says.

I don't know literature of the black community, but you seem to be arguing that we can't clearly determine cause versus effect.

Isn't it highly likely that they are both cause and effect, and that Caplan and TC (and Murray) by pointing this out are not just shilling for...whoever. If it's not outsourcers, and it's not doctors, and it's obviously not bankers who are they shilling for?

What is so funny is that PK can come right out and say that the entire right-wing blogosphere has in mind to use Murray's book as a vehicle for crony capitalism (since when is TC or Caplan right wing?) and nobody even notices that kind of blowhardy rhetoric anymore. He certainly has found some kind of rhetorical sweet spot.

Hey Andrew you realize even David Frum criticized the Murray book and Frum is not exactly a left-leaning guy

Yeah I know, Frum is the last honest conservative.

I sincerely hope from now on that Frum is always introduced at speeches and parties as the last honest conservative...according to Paul Krugman.

Well see now you're just tarnishing everyone - it's not just Paul Krugman - David Frum is now suspect because he refuses to pull the Charles Murray/Tyler Cowen/David Brooks line

Eh, maybe you misconstrue my reply.

You identify all sorts of non-financial costs and rewards associated with marraige. My interest is on these. I don't think the financial component alone explains it, or is even the primary component (beyond what such a high absolute level of GDP means for human interaction).

Think of it this way - let's say there was a wage premium associated with home ownership that we could identify (for all I know there is one).

Would it make sense for you to then say "well if times are tough, you'd expect people to be buying more homes because they get a wage premium from owning a home!"

No, of course not. If "times are tough" means that your wage is going down by more than the premium increases your wage, it's quite likely that the costs of the investment won't be worth it.

And marriage - like a home - is an investment.

Caplan was emphasizing the cost side, which seems to directly counter PK's story, not just the wage premium.

Noone is disputing the great stagnation, I'm not sure why PK think's that it invalidates a fairly simple point that things other than the economy matters. I also wonder if PK believes the globalization story as he implies with the factory moving to Mexico. Or, was the 1973 stimulus too small?

PK blames it on income inequality. But it's my impression that the globalization story is about the 0.1% not the 1% or the 10% or college educated that it is my impression that Murray is referring to.

Dude, Krugman regularly impresses upon people that it has less to do with trade and immigration and more to do with technological change and its impact on the wage structure.

He knows that trade is not a particularly important factor here. He reminds people of that point all the time.

He refers to a plant moving to Mexico.

@Daniel Kuehn,

For example, by saying (in the relevant post to this discussion):

"Murray himself grew up in a company town where Maytag provided good jobs for blue-collar workers — until it shut the plant and moved operations to Mexico."

Come on, man. Can't you see the guy only brings up things that are relevant to his argument at that time?

For example, when the Republicans were getting set to make gains in 2010, he literally ended his post with the words:

"Be afraid."


Now, if you head back to 2008 (you don't need to go back that far, but it is a good example), he said this:

"But the opponents of change, those who want to keep the Bush legacy intact, are not without resources. In fact, they’ve already made their standard pivot when things turn bad — the pivot from hype to fear. And in case you haven’t noticed, they’re very, very good at the fear thing."


Not sure how deriding someone for playing politics of fear and then using the politics of fear explicitly is consistent, but I'll leave that for the Krugman apologists.

"If “times are tough” means that your wage is going down by more than the premium increases your wage, it’s quite likely that the costs of the investment won’t be worth it."

Do we really have to go over sunk cost vs. marginal cost again? I really can't follow your argument:

On the earlier argument:
If marriage "costs" $1,500 regardless of prior income, and the marriage premium is $100 regardless of prior income, why would we see ANYONE get married? Get married, lose $1,400. Who would take that, regardless of their income? And why would their initial income even be relevant? If you want to monetize the psychological cost of marriage, then do the same for the psychological benefit. Even if they don't wash out, if you assume their relative amount doesn't change as incomes change, all you've done is venture off into new completely irrelevant territory.

We're back to the initial point: If getting married gets you a $100 premium, then being single costs $100. In that case, how can you blame being single on the fact that you're poor?

Grammar nazi digression: "Whence" means "from where". "From whence" is therefore redundant and simply "whence comes this sudden wave of economic determinism?" will do.

Thank you, I will hereby end this annoying digression.

As if the only way to have a joint household is to get married?

Marriage comes from traditional cultures, where, as far as I know, a man is expected to earn enough to support a family. Marriage is not driven by the idea that "the two of us with 14k income is not in poverty, while the one with 11k income is".

As I noted above, Caplan discusses the costs and benefits of cohabitation vs. marriage. Go read the post.

As many have observed, Caplan fails to note the rise in cohabitation.

"unmarried partner households has increased 72% in the last decade"

Are they poor because they are unmarried or are they unmarried because they are poor. Again I will note that there is a casual correlation that might be evidence to either argument, but not much else.

But does that support PKs counterpoint? It doesn't seem so. Men don't want to marry because they can't be the provider of yore, but they will cohabitate and father children out of wedlock?

Isn't Child Support cheaper than Child Support plus an Alimony?

Does that support the implication of the noble guy? It makes it worse.

The thing about marriage is more subtle than this debate. Our job is to figure how how far down the fractal we have to dig. I don't really care if I can't convince Paul Krugman. I care a little about his readers because they vote and make my life worse.

How common is alimony these days?

I don't know, but PK implies that it is not a drop in values, that men don't want to marry if they can't be good providers.

If in reality men are just shacking up and then ditching, that would be a drop in traditional values. So, that can't be it.

"As many have observed, Caplan fails to note the rise in cohabitation."

And they're wrong to say so. Go to Caplan's post, he did address it, and not in an addendum. It might not convince you, but he does address marriage vs. just cohabitation .

He doesn't fail to note it. He expicitly discusses it. Go read the post.

you want people to read the post they haven't read about a book they haven't read before arguing with the points of both?

Darn these women making more money and gaining control over their own bodies!

Somebody should buy Charles Murray and David Brooks a drink, at their all-male Victorian apologist club, that only exists in their books and columns.

One can note a trend has negative effects along with positive ones. Women getting more freedom can mean less effective family formation. Is that good or bad? Both, and it varies based on your perspective and values.

Pitch-perfect progressivism Todd. All gains and no losses!

LOL. Teach the controversy fellas.

Who is "darning these women for gaining control over their bodies."

What is with you people?!?

I know this will fly in the face of "any voluntary action is great for everyone," but women having more control can be good for them but bad for other parties (men, children, communities).

As a simple example, let's take a women that divorces a man because of some Eat, Pray, Love boredom. We can make the assumption that her decision improves her personal utility function (we can dispute this, but lets role with it), while at the same time being a negative for the husband, children, and others affected by that choice. It's unclear if its a net gain in societal utility.

This sort of reasoning can be applied to literally any human activity. Smoking in public. Unhealthy eating (through the social cost of, say, health care for diabetes). Studying art history (sure, maybe it makes ME happy, but wouldn't society be better off if I did engineering?).

The fact that you can condemn almost any action using some sort of utilitarian, greater-good sophistry demonstrates why a presumption towards voluntary action is necessary.

Where's the condemnation NP? Just pointing out that, despite the relentless cheerleading of progressives and their allies, these expansions of freedoms have costs. That does not necessarily mean that those who point this out want to roll back the clock.

Don't we have laws against smoking in many public venues. We don't have laws about unhealthy eating, but we do have all sorts of public policies that try to nudge people towards it. And many countries are starting to alter student loan funding based on the employability of different majors.

Seem to me plenty of public policy is in place to encourage, discourage, or flat out not allow various kinds of personal decisions.

"The judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated... The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people."

This is Charles Trevelyan, the British official in charge of food policy during the Irish potato famine. Charles Murray, and of course Tyler Cowen and Bryan Caplan, are his modern day counterparts. The white working class is declining. It must be their fault. Thanks, guys, for the moral lesson.

Wrapping yourself in the warm cocoon of your own finer feelings will convince no one of the merits of your argument.

Another good point from commenter Brian over on EconLog:

"I thought studies had shown divorce was considered the largest destruction of wealth out there. So if one has a 50% chance of getting divorced how much wealth is destroyed getting divorced verses wealth created while married?"

Of course there's a wage premium associated with marriage.

Such a premium absolutely does not disprove Krugman's point, and the way it's been argued here doesn't "bring sanity to the debate" as Tyler puts it - it has muddied the waters.

How does divorce destroy wealth? Unless you are going to concede that marriage creates wealth that doesn't exist when people are single.

Transaction costs and lost productivity for one thing.

And I wouldn't say I "concede" that marriage creates wealth, because I've always thought that. It seems weird to call something I've always thought a "concession".

"It’s well-known that a secular outlook is a normal good"
This is not true for the United States.

It is true. Just because the unwashed masses refuse to recognize it doesn't render it untrue.

I'll admit I wasn't aware of that trend. My impression was that the smarter you are the more likely you self-identify as an atheist.

In fact I faintly remember some survey that only 7% of the National Academy of Sciences self-identifies as "relegious".

I'm open to be corrected.

It depends on field. In physics, in the US, last I checked it was around 40%. It was higher in engineering. In biology it was pretty low, however.

That's plausible, but I think the discussion would benefit from supporting evidence.

There's also something of a cultural component to this - people who pursue the academy are more likely to identify with urban liberal cultural norms, among those are atheism/secularism. You'll find plenty of both very intelligent and very well educated people in other disciplines who embrace religion. The National Academy of Sciences is hardly a proxy for smart people, it's not even a proxy for people with education in the sciences, it's only a measure of academics in the sciences and probably one with group think selection bias at that.

It's not entirely clear to me that athiesm is necessarily a normal good though I might buy that secularism is. Traditionally, I don't think evidence exists that adherence to religion suffers with wealth, I think we are just seeing a cultural phenomenom coincide with rising living standards in the west. More likely, I'd say that cultural attitudes associated with some devout religious traditions has an impovrishing effect, increases in wealth lead to a larger consumption set with affordable allocations at odds with religious practice, and secular rationalism is in vogue these days.

You might be right. Are there studies that correlate religiosity with,say, IQ or years of education? Intutively I'd expect a negative correlation but intution is often wrong.

If you were born more than 20 years ago it was easier to be "religious-by-default"; OTOH most atheists I know became so after considerable introspection and reading (of arguable quality, of course).

Actually, church attendence is positively correlate with IQ and wealth (you'ld get that if you read Murray).

There is a correlation between stupidity and extreme religious affiliation. So the media portrayal of Christians mostly focuses on these people, and everyone gets the impression that means relgious = dumb.

The smartest guy in the world even says he has proven the existance of God. I find most really smart people, unless they have a particular social reason to be secular, admit some kind of spiritual believe beyond the laws of physics.

They're just hedging their bets.

Admitting some sort of spiritual presence is very different from systematic following of a particular faith.


Sure, but most of them adopt the tenents of some church and attend it. They may disregard one or two of the more whacked out legacy principals, but they buy into all the big rules about how to live.

I know very smart people who after much thought, introspection and some research, decide that they do believe in God. I know very smart people who after much thought, introspection and some research, decide that they don't. I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of people don't think too deeply about it and just go with whatever they were taught.

I find most really smart people, unless they have a particular social reason to be secular, admit some kind of spiritual believe beyond the laws of physics.

Not sure what "spiritual [belief] beyond the laws of physics" is supposed to mean, but religiosity tends to decline with IQ and education.

Why doesn't Charles Murray just plot the marriage rate versus time?

Why does PK jump from college to income inequality, which it seems almost by definition can't be about college.

This may be more a response to Caplan's wording "I’m baffled by people who blame declining marriage rates on poverty" than to the larger debate over Murray (or Caplan's larger research agenda). But it seems to me in discussing how poverty affects marriage one could do worse than to refer to Edin and Kefalis. Sorry I don't have the book at hand to make some specific references. I may return to this chain later if I can grab it.

(Actually, I now see Caplan referenced their book in a relatively recent blog post. But he quoted very selectively, and I believe misleadingly. But again, no book at hand to comment more constructively at this point.)

Caplan's post is remarkably naive, as anyone who's actually been a low-income single male will immediately realize.

Look: my household expenses before I got married were _much_ lower than they became after I got married - probably on the order of 50% lower. Guess why? I had roommates - obviously a foreign concept to someone like Caplan who can't imagine how a lower-income single person would find efficiencies. In fact it's more efficient than getting married, because you can have more than one! And believe it or not, having roommates is still a strikingly common phenomenon among single people in their 20s and 30s, particularly those making less than a professional salary.

Most of my other expenses were lower too - I frequently went without healthcare insurance, for instance, because my health was my own problem and I didn't have to worry about anyone else. That is of course the sort of common selfishness that makes an individual mandate necessary, not that opponents such as Caplan will ever admit it. As an asthmatic, both the state and I are lucky I never ended up in the ER. I was also free to be the sort of cheap, young-male slob that you simply can't be after you get married (or are courting).

Yes, I made more money after I got married, because having someone to care for made me feel more pressure to make money. But is that something I would have seen as an incentive _to_ get married? Nonsense.

Finally, why do most people get married nowadays? To have kids! And kids, wonderful as they might be, are not exactly cheap. Caplan's failure to notice this, despite his loud enthusiasm for parenting, makes me wonder how perceptive an economist he actually is.

Caplan frequently talks about roommates, as 5 seconds with Google would have told you.

This doesn't mean he's right, but it does mean a comment filled with ad hominems "roommates are obviously a foreign concept to someone like Caplan" is wrong.

First of all, you're misusing the term "ad hominem," which means to claim an argument is wrong because X said it and X is always wrong, or otherwise an idiot. I'm saying Caplan's wrong, and naive besides*, but I'm not saying his argument is wrong because he's the one advancing it.

Second, sure he talks about roommates - I'll even grant that he mentioned the male cohabitation premium. But he has no idea how it works, because he's studied it entirely from the perspective of an armchair economist. In particular, he just doesn't seem to understand the lived experience of being a lower-income person looking at the prospect of marriage. Absolutely no one in that position looks at marriage and thinks "that will save me money."

*Actually, I think he's naive in a way that very much reflects Murray's argument - which despite my criticism here, I am not completely unsympathetic to.

Yeah I can't stand Bryan Caplan he's literally the archetypical Ivory Tower doofus who has no idea about how things work in the actual world. He's a clueless moron.

So, you are saying that it is more expensive to be married than to stay single longer and then marry?

Also, we aren't really having fewer kids, we are having fewer kids from marriages.

"Absolutely no one in that position looks at marriage and thinks “that will save me money.”

You sure about this? I dont think it is neccesarily anywhere near being true.
It depends mainly on what the person you are getting married to is doing.

The prospect of getting married to your (financial) equal does bring up the possibility of making savings.

First of all, you’re misusing the term “ad hominem,”

Nope. I'm not confusing it for "insult," if that's what you're thinking. You are claiming that Caplan's arguments for roommates are wrong because of a characteristic of Caplan himself (thinking, incorrectly, that he never had roommates). His theories could be completely correct or absolute garbage, but in evaluating them it doesn't matter who they come from.

At least you didn't say "Caplan and his ilk." I gotta give you partial credit for that.

I don't see how you could have an ad hominem attack against Caplan - that would require him to be a man when it is in fact clear he's simply an Ivory Tower nerd long past due for some jock to give him an atomic wedgie.

Why are single men cave-dwelling slobs? Well, I had a chance to catch the Giants ticker tape parade yesterday. (You can imagine my joy as a Patriots fan.) Tens of thousands of people turned out to cheer the Giants. It was intense, pure emotion. Now, why would that happen? Why such intense affiliative behavior? Why would people take a day off from work to cheer the dominance of their preferred vendor of sports entertainment? Well, who else gets a ticker tape parade? The military, after a victory in battle or war.

So what are men designed to do? What toys do little boys play with? What will bring the throngs out into the streets to cheer you? Victory in combat, real, ritualistic or video-driven. That's why you can be a slob on the sofa--watching football or playing first person shooter video games. Because that's what men are designed to do.

But as Maxwell points out, marriage--and particularly children--change this. They reduce risky behavior, increase consistency, and improve work performance. But to a certain extent, it's through necessity, not necessarily desire.

So, yes, marriage--as a long-term, irrevocable agreement in intent--would seem to be an important institution to society. It is another vehicle for creating agency, which is all about discipline, the subsuming of the individual in the role. It moves Maxwell off the couch and will eventually change his name to "Dad".

Exactly. Before I was married, I watched sports endlessly, went out to the bars, wasn't as focused on my career.

When I started moving toward marriage, I decided to pursue my MBA. When I married, I aggressivley pursued new oppportunites at work, stayed in more, and started socking away money.

When I had kids, I almost completely stopped going out, started getting in shape, started learning how to do minor to mid level work on the car and house, and focused like a laser on what skills I needed to move up in work.

That sounds horrific

Well, I'm not endlessly complaining about how bad my lot in life is. So take it for what its worth.

Maybe you should complain

Don't worry, CBBB. I don't think you're in any danger of landing a mate or having kids.

Complaining hasn't gotten you anywhere, has it?

What a strange scale on which to judge complaining on. Complaining does not exclude action if that's what you mean.

The point was, I've taken action to create agency and improve discipline. So far, it has worked. Meanwhile, the mere mention of my actions caused you to revolt in horror. Probably, because you'd rather complain than take action that you find undesirable or difficult.

Nonsense Nonsense - I take action, I just don't like the idea of domestication that's why I was horrified. As for me I don't even need marriage to stay in shape and not watch TV all day.

Ha. 'Maybe you should complain.'

Dude, this could be your motto.

the sort of common selfishness that makes an individual mandate necessary, not that opponents such as Caplan will ever admit it

When externalized costs are likely to exist, even free marketer types often favor mandated liability insurance. If you want to see if you can get them to apply that reasoning to health care, too, all you need to do first is:

1) Recognize the difference between comprehensive insurance and liability insurance

2) Stop electing politicians who don't know the difference between comprehensive insurance and liability insurance.

Kopitz and Maxwell have good comments here. That's my contribution to this part of the conversation right now.

A slightly modified hypothesis:

The social taboos against extra-marital sex are very low (non-existant?) now but there still remains a larger taboo against children out of wedlock (at least in the cost to the child).

Marriage is a cost saving (presumably) but children are a high cost stream. Ergo the reduced number of marriages reflect the lower proportion of people who can afford children given economic stagnation.

Those who merely want the savings just cohabit.

This. Since you no longer have to get married to have sex, marriage is really 'about' children primarily. And it costs a lot to have kids, some folks that decide they never will don't really have much need of marriage.

Have birth rates among low income earners tracked down along with marriage rates? This sounds reasonable, but it doesn't seem to square with the increased rates of single motherhood, especially among the poor, that are correlated with lower marriage rates.


That Bryan Caplan quote was ridiculous - I know, I know that's redundant. Being Married is cheaper then being single because you can split the cost of furniture and groceries? This is nonsense - first of all while you might be able to split the cost most women expect a certain standard so you have to split the cost on MUCH more expensive furniture and housing then you could get by with being single. We don't even have to throw in children here (which Caplan loves to go on about) but they're basically 100% cost. The other thing is being married REALLY decreases a person's geographic mobility thus further decreasing a person's economic opportunity.

On a related note I am fucking sickened that you continue to bemoan the fall in religiosity - this is something that should be celebrating. It really shows your true Feudalistic colours Cowen.
Sorry no one needs to read Murray's book he's simply making the paternalistic argument that's as old as time about the weak values of the poor. Krugman's posts on the subject have it dead on - the rewards to "playing by the rules" have totally evaporated.


Take a breath. Is having illegitimate children "playing by the rules?" That's the question and why you might need to read Murray's book.

So, you are saying that we should celebrate the fall in religiosity. Why? Does religiosity promote poor values, or holds back economic prosperity? Again, this is apparently the opposite of what Murray is saying.

Krugman's posts are very weak.

We shouldn't celebrate the fall in superstitious beliefs? The faster the world rids itself of bronze age tall tales the better.

Sorry Krugman pretty much nails it - the idea that these value changes came out of nowhere is a bunch of nonsense - this is the kind of thing you can expect if you keep cheer-leading the destruction of opportunity and the compression of wages.

Do you ever disagree with Krugman? Very few people here agree with TC all the time, but without fail you swoop to Krugman's defense. Seems like you've abandoned more traditional religions and begun worshipping a New York Times columnist.

I'm not sayin, I'm just sayin.

It doesn't even need to be said. I think Krugman has some kind of Jedi mind trick powers.

Krugman just happens to be right a lot of the time and it's not the case that he's always right but Tyler tends to pick battles with him on topics that Krugman is right about.

I should add it's not so much that I think Krugman is right it's that I think Tyler is very very wrong

lol @CBBB trying to convince people he has a shred of objectivity as opposed to what is clearly his MO: quickly inhaling whatever Krugman (i.e. Wells) slaps into print before coming here to vomit it all back up again.

When did I ever pretend to be objective? I have my opinions and expound them vigorously - I've never pretended to objectively consider what others say. But with respect to Krugman - I read this blog a hell of a lot more then I read Krugman's.

That's your belief. It's beside the point right now.

Right now, either way the causation goes, it disproves a belief that a change to more liberalish lifestyles will by itself result in better economic outcomes.

You can then jump to hte concept that either the top 0.1% or 1% or college grads are taking away the money, but you have to accept at least that less traditional lifestyles wasn't enough to offset that. That is one reason why Krugman doesn't nail it.

Btw, wouldn't compression of wages be equality rather than inequality? Maybe what you guys mean is stratification. And I'm not cheerleading anything, I just think I have the prescription right. Just because you have a different prescription doesn't mean I'm cheerleading for the disease.

Regardless of the direction of causation, are you arguing that values are related to economic outcomes or not related?

I don't understand who said a change to a more liberal lifestyle has to do with bettering economic outcomes. I think the argument is that people won't have "middle class values" if they can't afford to be middle class.

It doesn't take money to have values.

I'm not sure that that's true. Maybe "values" are a luxury most can't afford.

Religion is about a lot more then superstition.

No it isn't

You don't get to define that by personal fiat. I mean, who died and made you, er, unGod?

You don’t get to define that by personal fiat.

That's never stopped me from doing it before.

UnGod? You mean like the Anti-Christ - I could live with being that.

Murray gets attacked for pointing out the obvious. How can you be a progressive unless you ignore what's right in front of you?

Yes, marriage is cheaper than being single. Meanwhile, you may have noticed that a whole bunch of married people do this thing where they have babies. Perhaps this is in need of expert research, but I'm pretty sure that second part is more expensive than being single.

Unmarried people also have babies. Is this also caused by the top 0.1% of earners?

Real Median Household Incomes seem to be up over the period. I don't think when people talk about income inequality they are referring to the top 50% versus the bottom 50%.

First Bryan cites a paper showing that marriage benefit is causal and not simply selective. Then Bryan uses behavioral economics to concoct an explanation that people who don't get married are likely to be impulsive, short-sighted people who are selected against. Isn't this contradictory? If the marriage bonus is not selective, as the paper finds, then how would behavioral economics explain it this way?

this isn't a defense of krugman, who is a buffoonish attack dog, but caplan is wrong on his central point. people don't get married for the savings benefits. if that were true, and that incentive was the one that mattered most, or even mattered at all significantly, you'd see a lot more people getting married as soon as it became legal to do so, at age 18, for the supposed enormous economic advantage it provided. but instead we see age at first marriage rising, and total marriage rates falling, in an age of growing income inequality and stagnant wages.

people simply do not think in these utilitarian terms about marriage, especially in an age punctuated by the acceptance of gay marriage in which the institution has become to be seen as a romantic idealization of shared destiny with one's soulmate, and nothing less will do. welcome to Expectation Nation.

none of these discussions into the morality and values deficits of the lower classes will make any sense until the debaters accept the premise that the sexual market underlies the economic market. all else flows from the dynamics of the sexual market. economically independent women have incentives to play the field holding out for the alpha male, and thanks to female hypergamy, their pool of acceptable male marriage prospects has shrunk in accordance with women's own rising wages and the relative falling wages of men. throw in the pill, and you are looking at distortions in the sexual market with consequences far-ranging and heretofore barely touched upon by the good liberal mainstream.

then, too, there is the total ignorance in these discussions of heritable personality traits that predispose people to better or worse economic fates. the ability to delay gratification is likely an inherited trait, and it is likely that those on the left hand side of the bell curve -- your lower class whites -- have less of this inborn ability than those on the right hand side. they fall behind because, absent guardrails such as religion and noblesse oblige and tilted playing fields, it's easy for them to fall behind. they revert to their resting state.

He's not saying that's why people get married. PK is saying that's why people aren't getting married. Caplan is saying "how can it be that less money is the main cause of people not getting married if money isn't a good reason to not get married?"

I wish Murray had just said "fewer people are getting married." But, I guess he had to look at why and he chose to compare no college to college. This can't be what PK refers to with income inequality, can it, that he's mad that people with college degrees are making more money?

Maybe it's just that college is a good marriage market.

> Maybe it’s just that college is a good marriage market.

I suspect it's just good practice for the marriage market. In the same way that dating in high school is practice for dating in college.

So one way in which the college you go to matters for the marriage market, besides getting you into particular jobs and leaving aside the somewhat rare meeting someone while an undergrad, is that you get used to hanging around and dating members of the opposite sex of the type at your school. So you get good at interacting with Harvard girls, for example.

"Maybe it’s just that college is a good marriage market."

This probably explains a lot of it. Off the top of my head, of my married friends, all save one couple met in school.

Caplan's central point is exactly the one you say is the right one; he is saying that if economic well-being drove marriage rates, you would see more poor people getting married because the marriage benefit is real. You don't see that (although the marriage benefit is real), and thus something other than pure economic consideration drives marriage (and divorce) rates.

Re: the ability to delay gratification is likely an inherited trait

I strongly suspect it is a learned trait, as are all complex behaviors. Genes may have some influence at a very basic level, but genetic determinism is just as absurd as economic determinism. Reality is far, far, far more complex than that. If we were mere automata of our genes we would still be living caves and worshipping the thunder.

There is an extremely important reason why it is not presently a good idea for low income people to marry that is sometimes missed - the legalities involved are beyond their means. The most dangerous trap is that of not being able to afford health insurance. That's one thing if the individual cannot afford it for himself - another if he becomes saddled with the health related bills of a partner for whom he is also legally indebted for. This does not mean that we should just throw up our hands and say, okay, just live together unmarried. It means we need to change what the terms of survival actually are.

The law doesn't work the way I think you think it does.

No one is responsible for the medical debts of his or her spouse. In fact, marriage allows you to shelter assets by making them jointly held. Jointly held assets generally cannot be touched to satisfy debts of an individual spouse.

The joint assets were already jointly held - by an ex wife who in that state was not required to settle assets upon divorce. So while she wasn't responsible for his medical debt she would get his belongings. Legally he wasn't really free to marry but then people are just supposed to know those things...hence the new wife becomes responsible for the debts without the assets.

Everyone loses by laws such as I just explained. The person who is left behind in divorce is not free to start their life over, they become condemned to live out the rest of their life in what was their past. Laws on the books that allow people to divorce without asset settlement need to be changed.

Guess you don't like Gary Becker.

Neither Frum nor Krugman blamed declining marriage rates on "poverty" so Caplan is attacking a bit of a strawman.

Terminology aside, has Caplan ever wondered what women look for in a man? One ready source is personal ads -- count the number of times a woman specifies things like "must have a stable job" or "must have a car." It's almost superfluous to specify a guy who doesn't live with his parents.

So why, exactly, is it so controversial to think that declining or stagnating adult male wages are a factor in declining marriage rates among these same groups? Tyler's statement about it being more plausible that "it is the rise in female income which is behind the decline in marriage" can easily be rephrased in terms of relative wages or the future path of relative wages. A man with a stagnant or non-existent career doesn't have much to offer in a marriage to a woman who might see herself (based on the trajectory of female income) as having good future economic prospects. Additionally, average or median measures of income do not capture volatility or uncertainty.

Good point.

More broadly, the general argument about wages is taken from a regression that covers all income groups. I don't think you can draw much in the way of conclusions about lower-income individuals from the results.

You can follow Caplan's link to the regression results, though there's not much discussion. The regression also leaves out some interactions, like married college graduates vs. unmarried.

So aside from all else the statistical evidence he relies on doesn't seem to be very strong.

This is probably the most reasonable way to take on Caplan's point because it is quite possible that the studies upon which he is relying showing a marriage benefit are simply showing a spurious correlation when the cause is something else.

When a woman says something like, "I don't like players." It means they fuck a lot of players. Don't take what women say at face value, look at what they do. They do fuck guys without stable jobs. Men respond to what women demand to fuck. When that meant get a stable job and marry me, that's what men did. If they can get it for less, they will.

"So why, exactly, is it so controversial to think that declining or stagnating adult male wages are a factor in declining marriage rates among these same groups?"

Because Caplan's point is that looking at it purely from an economic standpoint, declining or stagnating wages should be causing an INCREASE in marriage rates in those same groups, so the observable fact that marriage rates are declining indicates that there is some other factor, one with a greater and countervailing impact, at play.

But Caplan's analysis is wrong. He only considers specific things in a very unrealistic way when trying to make the point that marriage makes things financially easier. As has been stated elsewhere on this thread, most women want a certain level of comfort and so while you might be able to split the costs you're splitting the costs on more expensive items. Also geographic mobility decreases significantly with marriage so you can't really move around to get better job opportunities. What Caplan's argument completely misses is not that a lot of young people aren't earning as much as they'd like but that a lot of young people aren't earning SHIT so none of his tax-and-benefits arguments make any fucking sense.

A point I made below is that he is simply wrong to look at it from a purely economic standpoint. His crude model of marriage appears to have been refuted by many demographic studies of marriage behavior going back several hundred years in Europe.

actually, i don't think Bryan was necessarily responding to critiques of Murray's book. he might have been responding to this line of thought:


Why do you need to be married to live together and pool fixed costs?

I'm baffled by people who are clueless about financial troubles being a major source of marital discord, something that leads to divorce or impedes marriage in the first place.

I agree. Divorce is often caused by financial problems.

The causality here is very difficult to sort out. Both sides are over-playing their hands on this one.

"Oh, Sally, will you marry me?"
"Bob, you haven't worked in three months, and your car was repossessed last week."
"That's true, but marriage wouldn't make my finances worse, and could even improve them."
"Hmmm. Try Marginal Revolution. Maybe someone there will marry you."

Ha! Although, I don't think there are a lot of chicks hanging around this site...

So is this the correct response by the guy? "Well I would be more attractive to marry if only the rich people weren't so rich and the government gave me more money!"


Am reposting this on Caplan's post.

Don't worry they'll delete it - they don't take too kindly to criticism over there

Has anyone heard, even anecdotally, about poor guys trying to get married but who can't because the women turn them down due to poor finances (not being combative -- serious question)? I've read about stuff like this in Egypt, where poor guys say they can't afford to get married, but never in the US. In fact, all I read about are women complaining that guys won't settle down, or too many of them are in jail and the pickings are slim (thus further emboldening men to play the field, as they know they are a valued commodity). Women turning down marriage proposals is a new one.

Women don't date the kind of guys that want to marry. I know tons of guys that are marraige material, but they are not hot. Women want Don Draper, or at least a guy that looks and sounds like him if they don't have the money. So guys with the looks to bed women easily play the field a lot, and women complain about players while ignoring most non-players.

Most women reach a point where they realize they are not Miss America material and therefore they will have to accept for something less than a Greek god. They may delude themselves on this score in their 20s, but sometime after 30 reality sets in like buzards coming to roost. Men usually figure this out too, and so abandon the quest for a Ms VaVoom (although guys with beaucoup bucks may be able to pull it off).

Men without option settle for washed up sluts in their 30s looking to snag a wallet/sperm bank.

when it happens in real life, women turn down marriage proposals because they are on the fence about their boyfriends. usually, this fence-sitting translates as "i feel meh about my beta boyfriend. i'm not tingling down there anymore with him." almost as often, a male interloper has diverted her attentions, or she has gotten a promotion and raise and now feels entitled to a higher quality pool of men from which to choose. direct financial considerations, at least at the conscious level, plays little role.

Nah, Women like getting played - the complaining is all a lot of hot air - it's really nothing new at all.

Is financial distress causing marital discord a new phenomenon? You need to explain the change over time. Despite having similar hardships, marriage rates used to be much higher, divorce rates much lower.

I feel like this doesn't get anywhere near the heart of David Frum's criticism. Frum doesn't argue that economic conditions deterministically drive moral behavior. Instead, he argues that it is strange that the simultaneous trends in the economic fortunes of the people Murray describes are almost completely ignored.

So what is the likewise explanation for the inequality argument? If the entire world has the same thing happening, is it really Wall Street's fault?

Also, nobody said low wages are the sole factor in low marriage rates among the working class. It is plausible that low wages are interacting with culture.

Demographers have long known about the "Western European marriage pattern" which was a phenomenon in which men and women both waited until at least the mid 20s to get married. A driving factor seems to have been that a man in Western Europe was expected to be economically established before he could marry and raise a family. The marriage age would rise in bad economic times and fall in good times, directly contradicting Caplan's model of marriage.

Since Murray is studying "white America" and since most white Americans can trace their roots back to Western European societies, I don't see Caplan's argument as anything close to a slam dunk. Rather than using a very crude model of how people might decide to get married, he should study the way people in Western Europe decided to get married for hundreds of years.

Naive, genuinely not loaded question: Why does Murray choose to focus only on "White America"? Why does he argue that that's the relevant subject for his study of (presumably national) society?

because he focused on white and black america in a previous book and was burned at the stake for his impudence. you could call it leftoshock therapy. now he's found a more devious way to broach the same subject that won't alert the kommissars of kultural korrectness.

Maybe you are not aware that Murray wrote a book, Losing Ground, about the effect of government policies on the poor (including non-whites) in 1984. The reaction to that book was similar to the reactions that Tyler notes in this post. I think the bulk of the reactions here can be summarized as follows: (a) this book is wrong, (b) I don't have to read it to know that. Note also how Paul the K dismisses the argument with charts of real hourly wages from the EPI. QED - good enough for his fans, but really not much of an argument.

Liberalism's Achilles' heel is its need to dismiss its opponents' arguments without engaging them. If liberals were to actually meet argument with counter argument, they would have to admit that their opponents had some weight to their views, and it would be harder simply to accuse them of bad faith. Liberalism is simply the position that good intentions are (almost) everything, and our intentions are good, and yours are bad.

That's some awe-inspiring straw man you've erected in all your spare time, Rich Berger. Your family must be proud.

'dead serious' provides a perfect example of precisely what Rich Berger's second paragraph has pointed out.

Krugman did not dismiss the book with a single chart. Rather he linked to a multi-part critique of Murray's book by David Frum. If David Frum is wrong in his criticism, why don't you point out exactly where he is wrong rather than "dismissing [his arguments] without engaging them"?

The theory is that it allows you to compare changes over time without using race as a factor. Murray believes in large genetic racial differences more than most authors, so this is more important to him than it would be for most authors. It also makes the book more controversial so it will sell better.

Hopefully to sidestep some controversy and to roughly control for some variables, I guess.

If you look at class stratification between whites you can't blame racism, for example. You get a little closer on genetics and can supposedly isolate behaviors. If the top 20% of whites are advancing, some in the middle are stagnating, and some at the lower incomes are losing ground, it can't really be all economy. The top 0.1-1% going bananas and the bottom rung falling off the ladder might be different problems (e.g. globalization and finance shenanigans for the winner-take-all at the top and the economy moving the ZMP threshold for the bottom), but the top 20% (or even the top 5%) advancing is too big to fall back on an inequality by exploitation explanation.

But I don't see how that works.

Suppose we take the distribution of income, just as an example, and look at where blacks fall. So some decades ago they were very much at the low end, and now are somewhat better off than they were then. So the low end now has more whites in it than it did decades ago.

This could happen with no change in the overall distribution at all. It's just the racial makeup of income groups that changes. So what exactly is Murray trying to claim?

Occam's razor would say that women today have better options than staying with an abusive drunk.

except that a lot of women stay with abusive drunks.

It's true. So true, in fact, that entire cable channels have been built upon this truth.

Oh man, one day away from MR and I miss this one! Not sure if people are still reading but here are my 2 cents:

The funniest thing here is that Krugman's argument is pretty 'conservative'. Or at least moralist. He is basically saying that poor people are not getting married because poor man don't feel like they have enough 'status' to do so. That also assumes that women are also following this new behavior because they agree with it.

That sounds weird. After all, what is the goal of getting married? If it is all about social status, why are women still dating these men? Even worse, why are these women still having their babies?

Now on the other side, if economic benefits are the main reason for getting married why do we see richer people getting married in the first place? Wouldn't these people be the first ones to 'opt-out' and enjoy the hedonistic benefits of being single?

My take is that this is mostly about culture. Poor people are not getting married because their peers are not getting married. It became ok to be a single mom or a sugar daddy, or whatever the terms are to describe both sides here. At the same time, the culture of big wedding parties and fancy honeymoons still atract the wealthy enough so they are willing to part with single life and get married.

What can be done to change this? How does one change culture? I have no idea.

It's "baby daddy" and Jerry Springer caused ALL of this.

"If it is all about social status, why are women still dating these men? Even worse, why are these women still having their babies?"

What are you talking about? Women aren't dating these men and having babies with them. Look Krugman is totally right - I wouldn't even dream of trying to get married until I had a pretty solid income and if that doesn't happen then no marriage. An awful lot of people probably think this way and so you're going to see declining marriage rates. The economic benefits of marriage are hugely overblown and not at all accurate the way Caplan has described them.

The book is not good EMPIRICAL social science. He puts forward some plausible hypotheses. However, so many of his claims are not empirically supported with evidence. See Andrew Gelman's recent take-down of one of Murray's (and Tucker Carlson's) claims. This is worse than Huntington's thesis about the "Clash of Civilizations".

Where does the statement that Frum quotes appear in Murray's book? It doesn't sound like his language.

What about the idea that less educated women are more likely to use marriage as an "excuse" for quitting their job, thus negating the cost savings?

I have no evidence of this one way or another, but it seems intuitive that a woman is going to be in a bigger hurry to quit her job as the circle K clerk as opposed to a VP of marketing. And less educated people can be very strict about gender roles.

Charles Murray seems to be getting exasperated with all these critiques that assume his book is describing trends that began in 2008!:

"This book isn’t about life in the Great Recession. It’s about what happened to work in the boom years of the 1980s, 1990s, and part of the 2000s when jobs were plentiful, including low-skill jobs paying good wages....

If the data say anything... it is that more money isn’t going to cure what ails Fishtown. Take marriage as an example. There’s neither any quantitative evidence, nor anthropological evidence from studies of working class communities, that indicates people aren’t getting married because wages are too low. The guys aren’t getting married because they don’t have to. To oversimplify. But just a bit."

Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?

the upper half of women are also having sex before marriage, yet are getting married.

the upper half of women are also having sex before marriage, yet are getting married.

As much as I appreciate Murray's sociological perspective, I think this is his weakness as a bio-conservative trying to piece together the trends. The upper and the lower classes aren't sorting by cognitive ability, so much as they are by life history behavior (which also includes cognitive ability).

A conservative libertarian has a lot to grapple with here: freedom and prosperity are the real "culprits" here, and their interaction with natural genetic variation. Not the welfare state. Not the government. Not apathetic elites. Not globalism or "stagnant wages". Any major reversals in these trends would seemingly require major, forceful social controls, because they are the consequences a very pervasive kind of individualism and of freedom of thought.

If you're interested in the social and cultural reasons for the declining marriage rate in the west, you could do worse than read "Marriage, a History" by Stephanie Coontz. It's absolutely fascinating, and as someone who has recently tied the knot, it was eye-opening. Many of the things I assumed were true about "traditional" marriage are not. And it's a very engaging read.

Tyler is in agreement with Coontz in one respect when he writes, "More plausibly it is the rise in female income (among other factors, including the rise of birth control, read more here) which is behind the decline in marriage."

How any of this has to do with economic determinism is beyond me.

Left out of the discussion so far is a basic reality: Pairing off only cheaper for BOTH spouses if both are working. Chronic unemployment (and often unemployability outside black market things like drug dealing) is a fact of life among the low income, and now it's crept up into the working class. This is especially true for men. Think like a sensible woman for a moment: you are scraping by on 20K a year. Taking on a partner may not double your bills, but they will definitely increase, and if the partner has nothing to add to the income flow you are definitely worse off. Heck, I've done this experiment (you don't have to be poor). My domestic partner was unemployed for a year after we moved to Baltimore when my job gave me the choice of Move or Pink Slip in 2008. We burned through all our non-retirement savings that year, even had to tap my IRA at one point so he wouldn't lose his car. The relationship very near fell apart over the stress and to this day neither our finances nor our relationship has quite recovered.

I have not read Caplan's post, but what you quote seems totally irrelevant. The causality is backwards. You and Caplan must believe that an unemployed, uneducated, person, and a rich educated person have the same likelihood of attracting a mate. That would seem to go against, I don't know, millions of years of evolution.

"It is unpopular because it disrupts current moral narratives about economic and social decline, as much on the right as on the left I might add, not because it is relying on dubious facts."

This is actually the point of Frum's criticism - one of his primary complaints is that Murray uses perfectly reasonable facts to reach moral conclusions that do not follow logically from them. To draw only a moral critique from the data indicated, one must assume that there are no other factors that may account for them. Frum and company, then, are not disproving the trends themselves, but highlighting alternative explanations that do not require the ideological underpinnings that Murray interjects.

Say no to feminist hoes!! Do not marry a femislut!

well, i wouldn't go that far. say no to marrying them, sure. but say yes to banging them silly!

Both rich and poor are following their best strategies as individuals. If you are rich, it is to your overall social advantage to stay married, go to church and proclaim to believe in God. If you are poor your best strategy is to get it while you can, wear your whorehood or your assholehood on your sleeve, and don't even pretend to sacrifice anything for the common good because it would demonstrate you are a sucker who can be taken advantage of easily.

If poor whites lived in their own country, it would be in their interest to behave differently, because men would not live in fear of their wives dreaming of leaving them for men with higher status. But being poor in a rich country is no good way to make a marriage work. The women always want more, more, more, more.

Comments for this post are closed