He begins from the premise that the gains from marriage arise from innate biological differences between men and women - that men can have loads of children, but don‘t know which ones are theirs, whilst women cannot. Given this, marriage is a potentially mutually beneficial trade. Men get to know which children are theirs, which is utility-enhancing if they care about the human capital of their offspring. And women get someone to help (if only financially) with child-raising.
This sounds like a very conservative premise. But it yields three anti-conservative results.
First, it suggests that the repression of women’s sexuality operates to the benefit of second-rate men. If women were free to shag around, they’d only go with the best men and ignore lower-quality ones. Repression and marriage thus give second-rate blokes a chance.
This helps explain something that has always puzzled me - why women who sleep around are stigmatized; I’ve always thought they should be encouraged. But then perhaps I have the mentality (if nothing else) of an alpha male.
Secondly, it implies that marriage mightn’t be optimal from the point of view of maximizing the quality of the population.
The institution of marriage has mixed effects here. The benefit is that it helps ensure that fathers’ invest more in children. The cost is that marriage stops some women from having children by men with the best genes, and instead they have children by men of lower quality.
The more you believe in genetic determinism, the more you should believe that marriage therefore produces lower-quality future generations.
This, together with our first point, suggests that marriage and the sexual repression of women has been to the benefit of second-rate men at the expense of both alpha males and longer-run human fitness.
Thirdly, it suggests that rising inequality reduces marriage. This happens through three mechanisms:
1. As male poverty rises, poorer men cannot afford a wife. It is relative poverty that matters here, as a man’s marriage prospects depend upon what he can offer a woman.
2. Richer women will need a bigger share of the surplus from marriage to tempt them to wed. This means they’ll hold out for richer men, but…
3. They might lose out to poorer women, who can, in effect, out-bid them - perhaps by being more easily impressed, or less likely to nag.
The result is that rising inequality leads to a mass of poor unmarried men on the one hand and a mass of richer unmarried Bridget Joneses on the other.
In this sense, if the Tories are serious about wanting to promote marriage, they should promise to increase equality. But, hey, maybe marriage isn’t such a good thing after all.
Now, this paper uses some pretty strong assumptions. For example, Saint-Paul takes a rather etiolated view of preferences: there’s no reference to “love”. And he also assumes the marriage market is perfectly competitive when in fact it is riddled with imperfect knowledge; Emily Procter, for example, doesn‘t know that I’m the right man for her - which is surely the world’s most grievous market failure. The question is, though: would his results survive relaxing such assumptions?