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seoulitary confinement

In general, how thorough is current economic analysis on the marriage-family transaction? Specifically, have any economists considered the long-run equilibrium in a totally free market? Absent institutional subsidies or taxes, including those imposed/granted by various world religions, are long-term, heterosexual, monogamous relationships the market equilibrium for human families? Maybe intervention by non-market actors has distorted the preferred conditions for propagating the species?


We need to consider why people get divorced and separate. It is hard to believe that a marriage subsidy or divorce/separation tax really gets at this issue. Professional counseling strikes me as far more likely to keep marriages together for the sake of children (the asserted externality) than a little extra cash. Of course, the parents could spend that extra cash on counseling but many people do not recognize their need for such counseling nor the benefits that such counseling can bring. You would know better than me today but as of 10 years ago economic models did not really do justice to these types of issues. Sure there will be abuses from such a program but subsidized education/counseling about how to construct an enduring, effective relationship and how to successfully raise children seem far more direct and promising paths to treating this topic.

Milk for Free

Judge Posner makes a good point about the children of homosexual couples and teasing. If teasing is operative in the allegedly poorer outcomes of children raised by homosexuals, a couple of things are worth noting.
First, attitudes among young people about homosexuality have grown remarkably more tolerant in the last decade, and continue to do so. Even the latest studies on the outcomes of adults raised by homosexual parents can incorporate only the tail end of this trend. A gay couple conceiving a child today could expect the child to spend all his school years in a welcoming environment, but research won't bear this out for another decade or so. Second, no one has proposed proscribing marriage of/childrearing by the obese, myopic, or unattractive on the grounds that their children will suffer poorer outcomes as a result of being teased.

Matt Howard

To Posner and "Milk"'s comments on gay parenting, it would be interesting to look also at the socioeconomic effects of not allowing two parents to marry one another on their offspring. If the government continues to withhold benefits from same-sex parents, then surely their children will be, on average, disadvantaged.

Antony Dnes

Surely the view that higher exit prices may stabilize marriage overlooks sexual asymmetry in divorce settlements. In Britain there is current controversy over 'big money' settlements in which the court is awarding half shares in family assets to long-married divorcing spouses. For smaller money families, it will likely be an award comparable to one in an equitable distribution jurisdiction in the US. If the male has typically earned the money, and a half share is an overestimate of the expectation of the female, we should predict that wealthy men will become reluctant to marry.

John D.

I think many people wonder whether a child would be worse off if raised by two mothers (or two fathers) instead of a mother and father. I'm surprised Judge Posner does not even consider this a possible drawback to same-sex marriage.

Matt Howard

To John D.
I think it is important to recognize that the outcome of children is a crude social proxy for whether two people should have the right to marry. For example, should married people have their marriage licenses expire if they don't have children, or if their children are failures (by some social, educational, or economic measure to be determined)? Of course not. Legal recognition of marriage should not be determined by unforeseen outcomes, especially when there is so much variance in outcomes across children.

Becker often has a tendancy to conflate questions of the right to marry with the question of gays raising children. They are separate discussions. Posner's view is less narrow, and in my opinion, much more interesting.


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