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January 10, 2014

Megan McArdle: How Marriage Makes You Rich and Stupid

The headline is hers, which is a deceptive-headline joke. She doesn't mean it. Read on.

She's responding to Matthew Yglesias (why bother?!) who claims it's no shocking thing that married people are richer than single people; after all, they can share housing expenses, like unmarried roommates can.

McArdle points out various ways in which marriage results in resource-sharing. One amusing one is in the area of cognitive resources sharing, which is where her idea of "marriage making you blissfully stupid" comes in.

Marriage also enables specialization. Which can be illustrated by a piece of wisdom I have developed in my brief three and a half years of marital bliss and now pass onto my friends who are getting married: “Marriage makes you stupid.”

I mean, I used to know where I kept my batteries and old documents. But when we got married, my husband, who is much tidier than I am, took over organizing the house. Now, unless it’s a piece of my clothing or kitchen equipment, I have no idea where we keep anything. And while I’m pretty sure I used to be able to put up shelves, now all I know how to do is ask my husband to do it.

On the other hand, he has no idea how much money we have, or in what accounts. And he can’t do the grocery shopping, because he doesn’t know what we consume. Individually, we are less competent to survive on our own. But collectively, we eat better, and we have a tidier house and better-managed finances. And our shelves don’t fall down so often.

Obviously, child-rearing is a major area of specialization.

There's not much of a political point to the column, if that's your main interest. In fact, by explaining away the benefits of marriage as being basically on the practical plane, it may subtly undermine arguments about marriage being a powerful force for improving life outcomes. I actually don't know if it does that or not.

But in the whole it's an interesting but light slightly-economic think piece about marriage. I liked it, anyway.


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posted by Ace at 04:24 PM

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