19 September 2016

The Powerful Lure of Marriage And Family

Few things trump big dollar economic incentives. But, a desire to marry and have children and raise them yourself is one of them.
The clients for Melissa’s company are all CEOs, and once a month one of them wants to fund her company to grow it big: A recruiting revolution! 
Melissa does not want a startup. She wants a family. She is restructuring her life to get what she wants. 
She hired another person in her company to take half her workload so she can focus on dating. She moved into an apartment that is big enough to actually live in so she won’t want to move in with the every guy she meets. She stopped traveling all the time because she can’t date if she’s out of town.
From here (hat tip Marginal Revolution).

I've seen similar statements made by specialist medical doctors who are women on dating sites. Lots of women in the twenty-first century in the United States, who are extremely economically successful, are still strongly attracted to the societal norm of getting marriage and having children while being supported by a spouse.

The problem, of course, is that if you are extremely economically successful, there are few men who can support you in the manner to which you are accustomed, and while they may want intelligent spouses (in part, because it makes their children more fit), they may not be particularly interesting in having an extremely economically successful wife.  Also, as women make up an increasing share of extremely economically successful individuals, the problem only gets worse.

To state the obvious, virtually no men who are extremely economically successful express a desire to (let alone act upon a desire to) become homemakers whose primary task for many years is to raise a couple's children while being economically supported by a wife (although extremely economically successful men certainly do express a desire to be married to a suitable wife and raise a family).  The goal of extremely economically successful men is much easier to attain.

As many studies have demonstrated, a very substantial share of income inequality among well educated and skilled women arises from the economic penalties associated with making that choice. See, for example, a recent study highlighted by Vox.

Now, that isn't the end of the discussion. First, one needs to consider if it makes sense to campaign to change the culturally driven gender scripts that seem out of place in these circumstances for men and for women alike.  Second, one needs to consider whether the economic penalties associated with taking a few years out of the work force to focus on children legitimately flow from productivity gains that come from not doing so, or if instead, this is merely a veiled and structural form of discrimination that has no legitimate economic basis.

Apparently, this is not a sentiment shared widely in Japan, where young professional women are increasingly rejecting the course of marrying and having children. I explain some reasons that this may be the case in comments on the piece here.

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