Monday, October 25, 2010

The Marriage Market

Early last week, I was teaching my students about the unemployment rate and suddenly it hit me just how similar the marriage market is to the labor market. So here are some redefined terms not found in any legitimate textbook that you can use to impress (or depress) your friends at your next singles party:

Adult Civilian Population: Economists usually define this as those age 16 and older. We know better. Parents may pretend that their daughters are too young to start dating, but girls as young as three start practicing their man-hunting techniques.

Out of the Labor Force: These are women who, when pressed, will say they don’t want a relationship right now. They’re officially not in the marriage market. They cite careers, education, and lifelong singlehood as the reasons. But we know most fit the bill of the “discouraged single,” corresponding to the economist’s “discouraged worker,” who’s given up looking because “There just aren’t any men available.”

In the Labor Force: These are the employed (women who have men) and the unemployed (those willing to fess up about wanting them).

Employed: These are the attached (steady girlfriends) and married (wives) living in relationship bliss. Well, maybe not. Some economists theorize that there exists the “underemployed,” who have unfulfilling jobs with bad hours, poor working conditions, lousy pay, and irritable bosses. So we suspect that the “under-attached” also exist. Even though they appear to be out of the marriage market, they continue to give the unattached a lot of competition because they’re always on the lookout for a chance to move up.

Unemployed: These are the unattached (never married, widowed, and divorced) singles looking for Mr. Right. They spend millions on improving their human capital. (The beauty industry owe a lot to them.) They spend more time with matchmaking services than at their college career centers. They put more effort into constructing online dating profiles than they do revising their resumes. And many leave the marriage market still single, fed up with it all.

Homework Assignment:
  1. Calculate the unemployment (unattachment) rate.
  2. Some economists argue that singles are single because they refuse to underbid their competition (offer more for less) or settle for a less-desirable mate. Others argue that society owes single women husbands commensurate with what they believe they can offer in a marriage. Which view do you prefer?