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June 13, 2007



Wait a mo... "women no longer need a meal ticket". Ok, but then you say that in the case of a churning job market "it signals to people that their spouse is no longer the meal ticket they thought". Now, unless you're saying that only men are after "meal tickets"now or that people may still say they want a meal ticket but don't actually need one anymore, that's a bit contradictory isn't it?


Not really.

What Chris is driving at is that economic dependency on a spouse/partner is a much less significant factor in calculations than it once was.

People aren't necessarily actively looking for a 'meal ticket' these days, merely less fearful of the economic impact of losing the one they've got, if they have one.


It'd make more sense if it was something along the lines of "women increasingly no longer need a meal ticket and those that still do find that their spouse is also more likely to lose their job."


It's a bit disingenuous to just throw all these factors into a blog post as though they have the same weighting.

Historically, the economic changes are the biggest factor. Go back in time and you are in a world where an average woman had no means to support herself in society without a man.

Without the economic demand for workers that forced open society, women would still be stuck with needing to be married. Once that stops, then marriage was bound to fall. It's hard to know what level that alone would make it fall to.

Dishwashers? The statistics say most single people don't use dishwashers and in some countries most of them use laundrettes rather than washing machines. Technology is largely an overrated explanation here.

Social/geo mobility is a medium size effect. It doesn't make a lot of sense to be married to someone when your job is in Manchester and theirs is in London. So marriage looks less viable...


The rise of the dishwasher causes the decline of the evening chat while she washes and he dries. And then, when the children are older and ought to be washing and drying the dishes, they are instead occupied in some activity that makes them even more offensive than teenagers used to be, thus needlessly reducing the pleasures of family life. I trust that these effects are picked up in the economic models?

Phil A

I can see where you are coming from with this, but it might as easily be argued that the mechanisms are mostly instant gratification and short attention spans.

Successful relationships take sustained effort and hard work. How many divorces are down to unrealistic expectations and short attention spans. A sort of “ Well I gave that all of five minutes, what a waste of time…” sort of thing?

Those are probably driven by technological advancement to some extent and and that probably does come from economic growth.


"Successful relationships take sustained effort and hard work."

Yeah but I don't like divorce as the easy option analyses. People who say that really ought to try it. It's easier to stay. I think Chris is right about the reason so many people take the harder road - because we can.


"Also, economic growth is associated (the causality goes both ways) with social and geographical mobility. This means people are less likely to meet like-minded others. "

Shouldn't that make you more likely to meet like minded others?

"women no longer need a meal ticket"

So women no longer need a husband to exploit?

Much of this assumes that the benefits of marriage/ partnership have fallen for women, compared to not marrying.

And yet, it seems to be mainly women complaining that men are unwilling to marry/ commit – rarely the reverse - which suggests that it is actually men who find marriage less attractive than before.

Which is strange, as the wife now usually makes a bigger financial contribution to the couple than before.

And it seems to me that lower job security could just as easily lead people to prefer a two-income household. If you lose your job, your spouse can support you until you find another one. (BTW - Was there really more job security in 1950? Or 1850?)

It seems to me that we can use simpler mechanisms to explain the changes:

People are more likely to divorce because it is easier than before.

Couples are less likely to formally marry because there is less point – marriage is no guarantee against your spouse leaving you.

Women are more likely to divorce than men because popular opinion expects the divorce terms to be more advantageous to the wife.

Men are more reluctant to marry than women because they think their spouses are more likely to divorce them.

If the changes are exactly what you would expect from changes to the divorce laws, why do we need further explanations?

Maynard Handley

I believe this new-fangled concept called contraception might just have something to do with the subject.

What are we really asking? If we had contraceptives + the relevant corollary of few kids dying, but apart from that we were living in Victorian England, would there still be a high rate of non-married living together and a high rate of divorce. My suspicion - yes. It takes about a generation or so for the full effects to kick in, but, at the end of the day I think the causality described here is foolish.

Contraception+decent medicine -> much less troubleseome sex -> living together + independent women.

The apparently interesting case is divorce --- if everyone had Victorian levels of wealth, would couples with children divorce?
My suspicion is, once again, yes. My understanding is that most Victorians, even the poor, were not so close to the starvation line that two separate units of (parent+child)&(other parent- some alimony) were not viable compared to the combined unit.

Glenn Athey

Well having a dishwasher in our house means we get to spend less time doing chores, so less opportunity to moan and gripe at each other for not doing our turn, and thus its a happier household, we spend more time together doing something nice.

Plus - in Britain, its becoming increasingly impossible to buy a house on your own, thus making cohabitation and dual incomes a basic necessity. But the real rate of economic prosperity might at some point dip as a result - therefore will real economic decline occur and if so will this be associated with increasing levels of family cohesion due to economic pressures?


There's a bit of a bait-and-switch going on here. Increased prosperity, equality and freedom lead to fewer marriages of all kinds. This is contrasted with the health benefits of good marriages.

Mark Wadsworth

Who gives a shit, frankly? It's a free world, what hacks me off is the way that the Courts strip ex-hubby of all his assets and make him pay alimony for ever more.

If these meddling fucks recognised pre-nups; had a statutory rate of child maintenance (of say £40 per child per week) and decided where children should live on the toss of a coin, then women would not be rushing to fuck over their husbands.

In the absence of a pre-nup, maybe we could have a straight 50/50 asset split and no maintenance payable by one spouse to another.

Fucking hell, what is wrong with teh State recognising and respecting private contracts? Fuckers.

Matt Munro

You've missed a very big one, the welfare state. This has enabled women at the bottom of the social pile to dispense with a male partner all together because they no longer need a working male's pay packet. Women in this position were historically the least independent, and the least likely to divorce - uneducated, and with restricted social horizons, so unlikely to be able to earn enough to support a family on their own. Now a female single parent has the disposable income of a family on £52k (shoot at me if you wish lefties but it's true).
Incidentally it has also enabled lower class women to ignore what is historically and bilogicallty the second biggest attractant in a potential mate, current/future earning ability, and shag any old layabout chav with impunity, knowing the kids life chances are not dependant on said chavs future. This has predictably caused social chaos.

Preston Benson

Quite indeed! What really built strong relationships was the functional need for another person to share our lives, ontop of the emotional need for spiritual intimacy with another human being, and physically for our own sexual drives. These relationships built strong connections.

But the independence granted by money, power and modern institutions and technology removes the functional need of a lover. All those things also work to separate parents from their children.

The physical sexual drive still exists, but it doesn't take much effor to snag a one-night stand these days.

Yet there is still a spiritual or emotional need (that can greatly compliment a sexual relationship), and it can't be sated by material goods. And we find that all the money in the world cannot secure this necessity.

Someone once said, that the accumulation of wealth and material goods is the defensive reaction of a person who has no emotional security. There is no substitute for having an intimate and healthy relationship with another human being.

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