Why do we encourage college, but punish marriage?

20 Mar

Megan McArdle asks in an article titled “Why Do Economists Urge College, But Not Marriage?” the question we wonder. Of course, it’s not just that we don’t encourage marriage, we actively penalize it in the USA (that’s before counting things like divorce theft and the threatpoint of family “law.”)

She writes:

College improves your earning prospects.  So does marriage.  Education makes you more likely to live longer.  So does marriage.  Yet while many economist (sic) vocally support initiatives to move more people into college, very few of them vocally favor initiatives to get more people married.  Why is that, asks Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry? His answer:

Meanwhile, economists’ “cosmopolitan perspective” (as Cowen puts it) makes them not feel good at the idea of public policy that would interfere with personal choices (allowing for a second that getting married is a “personal choice” in a way that going to college isn’t). Most economists think that government should not interfere or have a stance one way or another with decisions that feel intimate to people. That is a complete value judgement. And it’s a completely defensible one.

But at the level of the economics profession, this leads to bias: much more ink is spilled on, and thought given to the college wage premium than the marriage wage premium. One is mostly praised and interpreted in a certain way, while the other is mostly ignored. And, of course, the thing that academic economics focuses on has an effect on elite debate and public policy, especially when the socially liberal, pro-higher ed biases of economists line up well with those of the rest of the elite.(bold added)

Now, of course, we observe some truisms. The mentally retarded are unlikely to marry, and unlikely to live long. It’s a bad bet to take as a spouse a woman whose father died of Huntington’s disease; she has a 50% chance of carrying the gene for it and dying in her 30s, leaving you to care for the children she might have given the gift of the Huntington’s gene herself. So it is perhaps the case not that marriage makes one healthier, but that healthier people are more likely to get married. The same would hold with economics; in a Patriactionary world, economic status would again loom large (as it does to some extent today) as a spur to marriage. What is cause and what effect is not easy to tease out, but real, 1.0 marriage provided benefits to men, women, and especially children, the future of any society.

McArdle has a few other ideas. “(I) gravitate towards a more parsimonious explanation: all economists are, definitionally, very good at college.  Not all economists are good at marriage.  Saying that more people should go to college will make 0% of your colleagues feel bad.  Saying that more people should get married and stay married will make a significant fraction of your colleagues feel bad.”

In the end, having the government come out explicitly in favor of marriage is likely to lead to the same sort of catastrophic collapse that state churches caused in religious belief in places like Sweden. One envisions Ben Stein as a minister, reading the marriage rite with the same enthusiasm with which he once called “Bueller? Bueller?


Posted by on March 20, 2013 in Uncategorized


10 responses to “Why do we encourage college, but punish marriage?

  1. Will S.

    March 22, 2013 at 8:40 am

    Do you think it was so much state churches that caused decline in faith, in and of itself? I don’t deny the decline that has happened, nor that part of the problem in the case of state churches may have been due to the ‘officialness’ of them, but the same decline has also happened elsewhere in non-state mainline Protestant churches, which leads me to wonder whether the problem is so much having an official state church, as the influence of theological liberalism in the 19th century that affected many different kinds of Protestant churches, worldwide. And in the Netherlands, which indeed suffered the same rot in its state church that one finds in Sweden, England, and so on, a significant part of the population ended up breaking away from the state church, and forming their own denominations – some of which have stayed faithful, others of which have strayed.

  2. electricangel

    March 22, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    I don’t think there’s been an actual decline in faith, Will. By faith, I mean belief in things that are not demonstrable by reason. The major faith of the West has been what Moldbug calls “the Cathedral.” This is an unwarranted investment of capital (not as important) and belief in a process of building a society based upon the incorrect notion that “all men are created equal.” Even if it was once not known to be wrong, by its fruit we judge the tree, and that’s why we’re reactionaries. The state church, with its vestigial hierarchies and notions of “rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” left some doubt: there might be some things that weren’t Caesar’s. The Cathedral thus became state church 2.0.

    In the USA, we had a different problem. Religions needed to gain support from their members. This works in a society where men tithe 10%, but when men shirk their duty to be the elders of the church and direct it, then the pastors (for you Prots) need to either shut down the church or find a new source of funds. The lack of a state church thus kept a market-oriented pastorate in place, but the market became more and more marketed to women. I think this is the difference between Churchianity and European state churches, many of which, depending on state support, remained somewhat Patriarchal, if empty.

    The real disaster has been with us Papists. At one time, the American church was an Irish mafia, directed strongly along the lines of the Jansenist Irish builders (Jansen was a Calvinist Catholic.) The Italians had their “Knights of Columbus” as their own men’s group. With Vatican II, all this began to wither and die. The Church could no longer attract young heterosexual men to sacrifice their sexuality in a vow of chastity to her; at the same time, homosexuals flooded into the seminaries (or maybe, with the drop in hets, they simply became the overwhelming majority of the priests, and so became the culture.). Utter collapse. Men will fight and die to protect their homelands and loved ones, and sacrifice for them, but when there is nothing worth fighting for, and the struggle produces only a worse result, they drop out. It’s only with Trad Catholics that you see a strong male presence in the pulpits and the pews. They will eventually replace the dying off Vatican II liberals.

  3. Will S.

    March 22, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Ah, okay. I see where you’re coming from, in this. Agreed, what has happened has been disastrous.

    So, regarding the main point, do you think the government coming out (no pun intended) explicitly, officially, in favour of marriage, will mean things like increased pressure for gay marriage (on the basis that such is family formation, ‘you conservatives who say you believe in family values, why don’t you value families?’, etc. etc.), and an argument the State dare not discriminate in favour of heterosexual marriage? Absent the current situation of the State being beholden to social liberalism, I’m not sure it would otherwise be bad for marriage if the State actually gave it their official ‘blessing’; in the past, it was unofficial, but nonetheless real, and IMO it was back then, a good thing.

  4. Dale

    March 22, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    Another point is that universities provide many jobs for economists, so they want lots of people to go to college. Not many economists make their living off marriage.

  5. electricangel

    March 24, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Ah, Dale, an economy of explanation. William of Ockham would love you!

  6. Windy Wilson

    March 28, 2013 at 12:40 am

    As I understand it, in many European countries membership in a church entails an additional tax on your income given to the church. Otherwise religious people then do not join a church so as to increase their take-home pay. Churches keep records of who attends how often in order to get the people who are not members to join and pay, which further keeps people out of the churches.

  7. DT

    March 28, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    Marriage is only encouraged if its gay. For everyone else it is uncool and oppressive.


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