Marriage As A Strategic Life-Planning Decision

by Joshua Michtom

If you have been thinking about marriage as simply the most public and glorious recognition of the joy you have found in sharing your life with another human being, my friend, you have it all wrong. Marriage is fundamentally an economic arrangement of domestic affairs, and science is here to help you decide whether to sign up.

First, as you might have surmised, marriage is a helpful arrangement for living on your own. We discern this truth from the fact that more millennials are living with their parents than people of a similar age did in past recessions — or, as we used to call them in a more innocent time, depressions — and statisticians think it’s because fewer of them are getting married. Essentially, a spouse is like a roommate who feels obliged to help you through hard times, so if you are looking to make your way in this cold, penny-pinching world without returning to your childhood home, go ahead and get hitched.

On the other hand, it turns out that being married doesn’t seem to make you an appreciably better parent — it’s just that wealthier people are more likely to be married, and being wealthy helps you be a better parent, if being a better parent is measured by the time you spend with your children and the number of extracurricular activities you sign them up for.

So if all you’re concerned about is creating a good, loving environment in which to raise your future senators and presidents, you may forego the wedding with a clean conscience and use the money you save to pay for violin lessons.

So how do we decide? Marriage keeps us from living with our parents, but it doesn’t make us better parents. And the jury is still emphatically out on whether marriage makes us fundamentally happier or not. What we need is a tiebreaker, and thankfully, a legislator in Kansas is happy to oblige. He is proposing two tiers of foster care, with higher payments for foster parents who are “[m]arried couples who refrain from extramarital sex, keep a home free of liquor and tobacco, and regularly participate in a church or similar social organization.”

So many questions, right? Like, how would they enforce the extramarital sex provision? (They wouldn’t, pretty much.) Would a threesome with your spouse and someone else count as “extramarital”? (Probably.)

Does Kansas actually contain married couples who don’t smoke, drink, or cheat, who go to church on the regular, and who meet the other qualifications to be foster parents? Unknown. Also, I don’t really care. Still, this is a useful data point for young people considering whether or not to get hitched. If you are in Kansas and you hate fun but love children, you should definitely get married. Elsewhere, marry a wealthy person.

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