What's Marriage Worth?
By Richard Morin
Sunday, June 13, 2004; Page B05
As if commitment-phobic guys needed another reason not to tie the knot, here's one more: Despite years of research suggesting that men profit from marriage, it now appears that husbands may not be better off financially than bachelors or men who live with their girlfriends, claims Ohio State University economist Audrey Light.
And if women want to skip the walk down the aisle, Light's research gives them a financial incentive to just say no. Contrary to those previous studies, women who live with their boyfriends do just as well on the economic front as married women do, though both do better than their unmarried and unattached counterparts, Light asserts in the latest issue of Demography.
Light is well aware that her findings seem to fly in the face of both earlier research and the theories that those studies spawned. Her view: Her predecessors went awry because they were too limited in how they measured household income.
The notion that marriage gives a financial boost to men goes back three decades. It became so well-established that economists and social scientists even gave it a name: "the marriage premium." Married men, the researchers hypothesized, could spend more time working, preparing for work or simply resting up for the job and therefore earned more money than their single counterparts. Why? Because many of them could concentrate on their jobs while their dutiful wives took primary responsibility for the home front. This specialization was good for both spouses, according to this theory. Husbands went further in their careers and earned more, and their wives shared the benefits.
Some of these studies also found that part of the financial benefits of commitment even accrued to men who were living with their girlfriends, again because the women were assuming more of the burden at home (though not as much as married women). These men were better off financially than single guys, but still significantly worse off than married men, researchers found.
Well, according to Light, some of that is true. Married men do earn more than single or cohabiting men. But she also found that this extra income was often offset by a drop in their wives' earnings. The paychecks of many married women declined -- or stopped altogether -- after they became brides or mothers, something earlier researchers had not taken fully into account.
Light analyzed data collected from 12,686 men and women born between 1957 and 1964 and interviewed more or less annually between 1979 and 2000. By tracking changes in their marital status and living arrangements and matching those to changes in earnings, she was able to examine the effect of marriage and cohabitation on the overall financial status of a household, and not merely on men's earnings.
When she did that and factored in family size, Light found that the bump up in men's pay due to the marriage premium was easily matched by increased family spending and a drop in their wives' earnings. The more modest financial advantage of cohabitation also disappeared. "Single men have the same total family income [per family member], regardless of whether they are single, cohabiting or married," she wrote, adding that "marriage and cohabitation confer sizable -- and identical -- financial benefits on women while men break even upon entering either type of union."
First there was Road Rage. Now researchers claim to have identified another type of emotionalism that threatens to make life unpleasant for at least some of us.
Call it Bush Rage?
Seeing a photo of President Bush was enough to provoke aggressive thoughts and inhibit more helpful ones in four studies involving college students conducted by a research team from the University of Michigan and North Dakota State University.
In one study, two dozen undergraduates at North Dakota State sat at computers and were briefly shown a standard photo of Bush or a photo of a chair, followed by a word that had a positive meaning (such as "praise") or an aggressive word (such as "kick"). The study participants were told to characterize each word as either aggressive or helpful, and researchers timed how long it took them to do it. Participants viewed 120 word-photo combinations involving equal numbers of helpful and aggressive words.
Participants were quicker to characterize aggressive words that followed the picture of Bush and slower to characterize helpful words attached to his photo, evidence that Bush's image "primed aggressive thoughts and inhibited helpful thoughts" regardless of the students' political leanings, according to University of Michigan psychology professor Norbert Schwarz, Michigan graduate student Sara Konrath and psychologist Brian P. Meier of North Dakota State.
In another study, 87 University of Michigan undergraduates were asked to read a description and story about an individual the researchers called "Donald." A third were asked to rate the fictitious Donald before they were shown a photo of President Bush; a third rated Donald after first seeing the Bush photo and then reading about Donald; the final third first read the story, saw the Bush image, and then offered their judgments of Donald. (Whew, talk about covering all the bases . . .)
© 2004 The Washington Post Company