"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Friday, January 18, 2008

"There is nobody so irritating as somebody with less intelligence and more sense than we have." - Don Herold

***

Excerpts from Tim Harford's new book, The Logic of Life: The Economics of Marriage

"It's a commonplace observation that the contraceptive pill wrought major changes in society. But when most people hear that, they probably think that the effects were mostly to do with college parties becoming a lot more fun. In fact, rational responses to the pill have had remarkably similar effects to those that come from imprisoning a significant chunk of the male population...

The contraceptive pill also makes it easier for men to get sex outside of marriage. The logic of evolutionary psychology says that women should be choosy about who they have sex with, because pregnancy in the wrong circumstances is extremely costly—but the logic of a woman who has control of reliable contraception is quite different. The preferences that evolution has shaped still exert powerful influence on our instincts, and many women remain extremely choosy and refuse to have sex outside marriage. But others, once armed with the pill, decided they could afford to have a little more fun.

The choosy ones are unlucky: the existence of other women who are a little freer with their favors weakens the bargaining power of the Madonnas, and means that men have less incentive to marry. Some men will not bother at all, feeling that they can get all they want from a playboy lifestyle. Or they may delay marriage until middle age, cutting down on the pool of marriageable men and increasing male bargaining power...

The most educated men in the United States were born just after the second world war and graduated in the mid 1960s—male graduation rates dipped after that, and have not yet returned to that peak. The rational choice perspective suggests it is probably not coincidental that this decline set in roughly when women got hold of the contraceptive pill.

Women's rational responses to the pill wrought other, socially far-reaching changes. The ability to delay, and to some extent control, the timings of their pregnancies also allowed women to plan their careers in a new way: rather than hurrying back to work after having children, they could decide to postpone their departure. That made it rational to invest in training for a career with a long pre-qualification period, such as law, medicine or dentistry. Female enrollment in law and medical school duly soared as the pill became available, because women knew they could qualify and establish themselves in a career without becoming a nun.

Delaying motherhood means big income gains for educated women, because of the economies of scale in education and work which reward those who spend a long time in college and then work long hours early in their careers. For every year by which a woman delays having her first child, her lifetime earnings rise by ten percent. Of course, someone who delays having children might earn more simply because her career is her priority, but you can get around that statistical minefield by looking at women who, because of miscarriages or accidental pregnancies, do not have children at the time they would have chosen. These random misfortunes, which mean women having babies earlier or later than they would have done, all point in the same direction: a year's delay adds about one tenth to lifetime earnings."


Also: Divorce Is Good for Women

"Marriage used to be one of the fundamental ways to gain from division of labor...

By the 1950s, those traditional sexual roles were fundamental in the division of labor within marriage. The ideal husband specialized in breadwinning, getting an education, a good job, working whatever hours were necessary to win promotion, and earning ever more to supply the family with a car, a fridge, a nice house in the suburbs and frequent holidays. His adoring wife specialized in homemaking, cooking, cleaning, entertaining, bringing up the children to be smart and wholesome and taking care of her husband's emotional and sexual needs...

It was economist Gary Becker who showed the implications of Adam Smith's pin factory for marriage in the modern age. How had the division of labor become so sexually lopsided? The answer was the interaction of three economic forces: the division of labor, economies of scale, and comparative advantage...

A household in which both parents work part-time on their careers and part-time looking after children and the home does not make rational economic sense. Two halves are much less than a whole. Economies of scale dictate that, logically, one partner should apply himself or herself full-time to paid work. The other should work at home-making, and only work for money if there is some spare time available after the household chores...

The logic of comparative advantage highlighted something that most men—except economists—have found it hard to get their heads around: there is no reason to believe that men were breadwinners because they were any good at it. They might simply have been breadwinners because getting them to help around the house would have been even worse...

In the late 1970s... divorce rates had more than doubled in the past two decades, both in the US and many European countries. It was clear that the world of marriage had changed dramatically...

At the beginning of the 20th century, housework took many hours, and only the poorest and most desperate married women had jobs. As the decades rolled past, technological change made housework less time-consuming. It became easy—and quite common—for older women to enter the workforce after their children were grown and housework was easily manageable.

Once divorce rates first began to climb, it was no surprise that they increased dramatically. There was a rationally self-reinforcing loop at work: the more people divorced, the more divorcees—that is, potential marriage partners—you could meet. That meant that it was easier to get divorced yourself and find a new spouse...

The economist Betsey Stevenson explored this question using a research approach that should now be familiar, looking at the timing of the new law, state by state. And she found that when states introduced "no fault" divorce and thus gave the husband an easy escape from the marriage, wives were less likely to work while their husbands went through school, but more likely to work full- time and less likely to have children. All these effects were quite large; for each decision, between five percent and ten percent of women changed their behavior as the law changed...

This analysis links divorce, the pill and women's increasing power and achievement in the workplace in a reinforcing loop. But it would be wrong to "blame" an increase in divorce rates on an increase in women's professional achievements. There is, after all, no evidence that people are more unhappy with their marriages than in 1950. The opposite is likely to be true, because when they are unhappy with their marriages they can do something about it. One influential study by economists Andrew Oswald and Jonathan Gardner finds that divorcees, unlike widows and widowers, are happier one year after the marriage ends than they were while still married...

Economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers discovered a chilling example of the way that the increased availability of divorce empowered women. As states passed "no fault" divorce laws, women acquired a credible threat to walk out of the marriage. (The statistics suggest that many of them did not, actually, do this. But the threat is enough.) Stevenson and Wolfers show that the new laws had an unexpected—but rational—effect: by giving women an exit-option, they gave men stronger incentives to behave well inside a marriage. The result? Domestic violence fell by almost a third, and the number of women murdered by their partners fell by ten percent. Female suicide also fell. It is a reminder that the binding commitment of marriage has costs as well as benefits.

Perhaps we should celebrate divorce just a little bit more. First, we should recognize that divorce is no longer increasing. That is rational. The peak in divorce in the 1970s was not, fundamentally, caused by legal changes but by changes in the underlying economics of family life, changes which reduced the incentives to be married.

In the long run, the rational response is not for couples to marry early and marry often; it is to divorce less and marry less, too. Now that the stock of marriages has been decimated by divorce, romantic couples are moving from the boom and bust of marriage and divorce to a more stable arrangement where marriages are delayed until couples are more sure of themselves. And perhaps delayed indefinitely—two of the leading economic researchers in the field, Stevenson and Wolfers, have been a romantic couple for ten years, and remain unmarried."
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