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Jim Vernon

I quibble (yes, quibble) with your claim that "no longer are children born out of wedlock subjected to disadvantages associated with “illegitimacy,” such as being denied rights of inheritance; and no-fault divorce has lowered the cost of divorce."

While I agree that the disadvantage you cite specifically no longer apply (as with my own daughter), I can attest that cultural disadvantages still exist. In fact, many so-called cultural conservatives seem to support these disadvantages as a "disincentive" for motherhood out of wedlock. (Charles Murray, in particular, seems to like his own hypocritical preference for scolding out-of-wedlock mothers while exempting his own divorce behavior, or at least he did a decade ago.) Such moral distinctions do great harm to children born out of wedlock, as I have found from personal experience. I appreciate your respectful tone and repeat my thanks given to Gary Becker.

Best regards,


I would suggest that the propect of establishing a traditional family with 2.1 children looks formidable even to the casual observer. The economic, cultural, moral ano political future looks quite bleak. Why would anyone want to embark on that voyage with children with so many uncertainties. Sort of reminds me of why anyone would want to hire workers. In addition, you failed to mention the cultural threat in the western world from birth rates below replacement. Even in the United States, the birth rate is BARELY at the replacement level (2.1) and that only if the hispanic population is factored in. In addition, the propect of achieving a standard of living approaching that of the last 5 decades is fairly low. Why would anyone want to get married.


I think they call it committed relationships because they often ARE fairly committed, just not as committed as marriage. Uncommitted relationships are more like "friends with benefits", which are fairly common but quite a different relationship, often. And while you may say that divorce isn't censored by society, and I suppose it isn't as much as it was(in social circles at least), I think it is still the second leading cause of bankruptcy after health care bills. Avoiding that alone is a fairly good cause to avoid marriage IMO.


I'm a 22 year old girl studying economics and I have so many expectations in life, I'm investing my time and all my efforts to achieve a goal. I think that marriage is not for me. I will be perfectly fine with a cohabitating relationship. Today is not 20 years ago when you got married and that was it, when the mothers that worked were seen as irresponsible. There's so much out there, why would someone want commit to one person. In reality, I dont care about marriage or the social status of a couple, for me the real responsability in life comes with having children. A bad housband you can divorce but a child is yours forever... so the real commitement is with them.


I'm probably going to be attacked for this, but here goes anyway...
In the modern age Marriage can be a liabilty; psychologically, socially, and economically (especially for males in divorce settlements). Having been in the dating/marriage game, I have been asked why haven't you ever gotten married? My response, "All I've ever run into are "Witches", "Bitches" and "Crazywomen" to answer your question". And after seeing some of the divorces some of my friends have gone through, both men and women, my mental and financial health are far more important. Although, I wouldn't mind getting married if I met the right woman.

It's a "mad mad world". This is insanity and I want out!


Is there any consensus here on the "ideal" rate of marriage and child rearing? Turning back the clock would reveal many of the reasons touched upon for marriage and higher fertility rates such as infant mortality, and other causes of an early death such as wars and pestilence, as well as having family members to care for older parents.

For the world as a whole would we agree that 6 billion is about enough population? Thus suggesting a bare replacement rate of fertility? Absent the need for more cannon fodder or members of expansionist religious sects, wouldn't a childless couple or even singles be viewed as doing as much for their nation/community as those opting for familyhood?

Gordon Longhouse

This post is topical as I attended a wedding last weekend.

While the traditional conception of marriage as a lifetime union has past, some form of public recognition of a relationship is likely to be a permanent fixture regardless of the child bearing intentions of people.

The demand on the part of homosexuals for their relationships to be recognized and the fierce resistance on the part of some to this proposal is evidence enough that people require an institution such as marriage and value it. While some of the motivation on the part of homosexuals may be inheritance and other legal rights granted legally recognised spouses, the rhetoric by which they advance their claims convinces me that it is as much about societal recognition of their relationships as it is about the other advantages of marriage.

What is interesting from the point of view of this discussion is that it is not for the most part about child rearing which motivation seems to be the focus of this discussion.


Why Jack, you old communist, don't worry; population is self limiting and anyway in the western world the birth rate is generally below replacement. As you point out, it is only in some parts of the world where there is an expansionist religious fervor that the birth rate is around 8 per family.


Jim?? "communist??" Is that what those of the extreme right are calling those who favor increasing the competitive power of capitalism by returning to a more level playing field and re-regulation of those "too big to fail" trading for their own purse but backed by the public dollar?

Hmm, "some parts of the world?" I found this table interesting with UT topping the US fertility rate by a substantial margin. I also found the next column over "teen births" interesting as well and wonder what is happening in the "red states?" With just a few exceptions those having higher than average teen births have voted "red" in recent national elections.


Well, another "part of the world" is Mexico where half of their 100 million population was born since 1970. Since birth rate seems to fall with increased incomes, higher education and other "commie?" policies like SS, if we were really concerned about illegal immigration, it would seem that we should redouble our "efforts" to live up to the rising incomes once claimed as a goal of NAFTA. Currently, as less than 1% of Mexicans immigrate to the US despite a miserable economy it looks as though they've strong predilection for staying home if it's at all possible, but what happens to them, and us, if population continues to outgrow their economy and job creation?

"Self-limiting?" That grand cycle of outgrowing resources, warmongering with the occasional plague spreading rapidly through densely populated areas????

Gordon: I agree with your point that you illustrate well by considering the feelings/status of homosexual couples who'd have been closeted a couple decades ago, moving to tolerated co-habitation and perhaps eventually full societal recognition. Today, and perhaps of interest to home or apartment builders and planners that half of our adult population is not the typical nuclear family.

Chris Graves

One big factor that is commonly overlooked that leads to conflicts in marriage that set the stage for divorce, especially as divorce has become easier to obtain, is a problem identified by Arthur Schopenhauer. That natural Catch-22 is this: what makes for healthy children makes for unhappy parents. Schopenhauer observed that greater biological differences between parents produces healthier children since each parent's genetic flaws are mininized whereas if more biologically similar people married and conceived children, each parent's genetic flaws would be magnified. The problem for the marital relationship is that temperament is rooted in biology, so people who are different genetically have different personalities. See Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan's work on temperament for an updating of traditional understandings of temperamental differences that date back to ancient times (choleric, sanguine, melancholy, and phlegmatic).

These differences lead to conflict after the initial sexual attraction, which paradoxically is largely based on differences, diminishes. Dissatisfaction with one's mate after a few months or a few years of marriage when the sexual and romantic euphoria wears off is especially pronounced among women. This may be due to women submerging sexual attraction into romantic attraction. Hence, the much greater tendency for women to seek divorce, and usually for rather trivial reasons as explicitly stated. See the study on divorce by Margaret Brinig of George Mason University and Douglas Allen of Simon Fraser University for a discussion of women's greater tendency to initiate divorce.

In contrast, studies show that when people marry who are more similar across a variety of traits including temperament and personality, the conflicts are minimized resulting in a greater likelihood of marital harmony and satisfaction.

There are trade-offs either way. If people who are more similar marry each other consistently over time, then genetic defects may become more pronounced. The population might also become more polarized. There would be a loss of complementarity in households. On the other hand, if people maximize the differences between mates, then greater conflict and alienation results leading to a greater propensity to divorce. But greater compatibility leads to greater marital satisfaction than does greater complementarity.


Chris: Great! So you're beginning to embrace the benefits of increasing genetic diversity available in America? And, thanks to and Amendment or two, desegregation, affirmative action and access to higher education and careers, the genetic diversity is spread over a more homogeneous cultural and economic background.

I can't help wondering how Prof Allen derived his data. Anecdotally, it does seem to me that it is the woman who finally files the papers and unless it's a contested or acrimonious divorce kinda leaves out larger reasons like infidelity, addictions, and even physical abuse for a variety of reasons including post-divorce harmony, the children, and perhaps child support issues.

Took a look at the categories and found it difficult to pigionhole myself or close friends:



It saddens me that such a brilliant writer attracts such idiotic comments.

Let's all just load up on prozac and drift through life like zombies, can't figure out what went wrong...


When children are born out of wedlock, the burden does NOT fall to the mother alone. It falls to BigGov and taxpayers to subsidize her choices with WIC, gov't-assisted housing, gov't-assisted transportation, earned income credit, gov't-assisted health care, gov't-assisted recreation. Only men who outearn her surrogate husband, BigGov have any chance to be married.

Account Deleted

Dear Mr.Becker & Mr.Posner:

I am very glad to write to you here.

I'm a freelance translator from China,appreciating your provoking and deep thoughts showed in your articles , and have been paying close attention to your blog for a long time.Now I'm doing translations at www.yeeyan.org at leisure time ,which is a website volunteer translators introduce foreign articles on net and books to China's readers.Last month I have created a project about your blog on this website.We follow your blog and paste the articles which are thereby translated by volunteers.

Now, I think I should tell you what we are doing ,and would like to know whether you approve things we're doing.

Here is my email : [email protected].

I'm eagerly waiting for your reply.

Best regards

Leo Young
9th Apr.2010

Chris Graves

Jack, thanks for your clever reply. First, while some divorces unfold as you suggest, most do not. Only a relatively small percentage of failed marriages involve high conflict, i.e. violence or verbal abuse, as well as adultery and other forms of misbehavior according to the study from George Mason and Simon Frasier Universities. There are other studies that confirm this finding.

As for increasing genetic diversity across races enhancing the gene pool, that may or may not be true, but the same problems between mates arise in interracial marriages as in any marriage where the husband and wife are different. Differences tend to lead to increased misunderstanding and conflict. In fact, interracial marriages are more likely to end in divorce.



Mike: Did YOU have any thoughts or ideas about the topic to contribute?

Joan: Agreed. However, the inability of median and lower income earners to make any gains in purchasing power is causing many more young marrieds to rely on the same transfer programs you mention. Note min and lower wages flat-lining during a period of a doubling of productivity in the 2nd graph.


Chris: Ha! Couldn't resist giving you an elbow to the ribs! Studying human behavior and demographics shifts is as one wag recently said about "race not being rocket science, it's more complex" a very difficult science with the best of intentions.

Again, I question how any remotely scientific data would be gathered on the causes of divorces and even moreso how you'd divine "race" as the dominant cause.

In this week's high profile Hollywood divorce involving the custody of 8 kids, the father's lawyers are trying to paint her as an irresponsible gadabout concerned only with her career. As things, predictably, escalate surely her lawyers will fling similar charges at the father with the "truth" likely being buried somewhere near the court-house steps. If Tiger's marriage doesn't survive my guess is a somewhat private settlement will be agreed upon under "irreconcilable differences" as are many uncontested divorces. And what "race" is he? His children?

Well, it's fortunate that "interracial marriage" has been legal throughout our nation for 40 years as DNA tests have made it ever more clear that "race" is a cultural construct rather than one of biology. I've wondered in that vein, as to how Bob Jones U. in SC "fairly" defines "race" or "dating" in its ban on "interracial dating". With a college degree at stake would suspected miscreants be allowed a court challenge? or would they be at the mercy of some less than race tolerant college bureaucrat more concerned about his sinecure than justice?

If you were able to make a credible case for "Differences tend to lead to increased misunderstanding and conflict. In fact, interracial marriages are more likely to end in divorce." I suppose the next logical case would be to try to decide whether the negatives out weighed the positive aspects of genetic and cultural diversity. But Ha! the real world folk will ignore it all and continue to mix and mingle as they should!

Chris Graves

Jack, as for methodology used in studies comparing the stability of racially and ethnically homogeneous marriages in comparison with heterogeneous marriages all they have to do is just count up the divorces among the various couples and compare them. See the study that I provided a link to. There are other studies besides this one. Other differences also make divorce more likely such as differences in education and economic and social class.

People do tend to sort out by race and ethnicity if left to themselves. They tend to be misled by their instincts in less salient differences such as temperament, however. That is what Jane Austen was driving at in her romantic novels, viz. we tend to overlook the person best suited to us as we are initially drawn to the wrong person in terms of compatibility in the long-run of marriage.

Mike Hunter

I had to laugh about Mr. Posners puzzlement regarding the plummeting marriage rates. I usually enjoy reading his blog, but; while reading this particular article he seems to have a total disconnect from the people 'down in the trenches' of the dating game. So I'll explain my position, and the position of many other young men while offering some advice.

My first piece of advice when it comes to marriage is simple.

Don’t. And I do mean never. And, yes, that means you.

I don’t cotton much to psychobabble, so I won’t make a hypocrite of myself by putting you though it. Thankfully, it is not necessary. For it isn’t relationship dynamics that will get you. It’s math. And the numbers are scary.

First, and most of you know this, Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, not counting the ones that end in murder, suicide and psychiatric facilities. But that doesn’t mean that only half of marriages are failures. There is a lot of failed marriages that don’t end up as divorces. These are people who stay married and make a hobby of hating each other like Palestinians and Israelis.

The math on marriage isn’t near as disturbing as the numbers you will be faced with when it‘s over. The equation goes roughly something like this.

1 angry wife + 1 lawyer + 1 family court = 1 impoverished man living in a studio apartment and driving a 1981 Buick Skylark.

Numbers are sometimes ugly, but they don’t lie.

But wait, you say, I can change that equation with a pre-nup!

Yes, you can. Here are the factor weighed results.

1 angry wife + 1 lawyer + 1 family court + 1 prenuptial agreement = 1 impoverished man living in a studio apartment and driving a 1982 Buick Skylark.

Pre-nups take more time to draw up than the courts take tossing them aside.

The fact of the matter is that in modern culture men are better off downing ten shots of tequila and stumbling blindfolded through a mine field. The odds are better.

Think about it for a moment. Marriage is quite literally an investment of not only your heart, but all of your work, savings, current income and future income, especially when children are involved. Now, if an investment broker told you he had a deal in which you could invest, with mostly intangible returns, and there was roughly a 50% chance that you would be wiped out and spend most of the rest of your life paying the margin call or going to jail, how much would you invest?


Oh, come on now, you might be saying. It’s not fair to reduce the institution of marriage into a financial equation. Well, yes it is. Believe me, if the woman you marry doesn’t heavily consider your income prior to saying yes, she is the infinitesimal exception. And for those of you who still think it is natural and right for a man to be the breadwinner and the head of the family, please know that would be the same head that gets lobbed off in the family court where more than half of you will end up.

And even if you don’t think, for who knows what reasons, that marriage is about money, you better believe that divorce is. Reducing holy matrimony to assets and liabilities is precisely what family courts are designed to do. And they do it with brutal efficiency. If you walk in to one of those places as a man in western culture, you will find that out in the most sobering ways imaginable.

Your experience there will leave you with a mental block. You won’t even be able to say the words “family court” again, for they will find you, shivering in the corner, mumbling incoherently about “that place.”

A lot of married men already know this. Those are the guys in the other half of the marriage statistics. You know, the group that is “successful?” Plenty of them have consulted lawyers because they wanted to escape insufferably nasty, horrifically high maintenance wives, but the more legal realities they heard, the more those banshees they were married to began to resemble June Cleaver. As soon as they coined the phrase “Take him to the cleaners,” the follow up, “cheaper to keep her,” wasn’t far behind.

Just don’t do it.

Living with a woman may be a better option, but you need to be careful with that one, too. Depending on the laws where you live, you could end up married without knowing it. So gather your facts.

Yes guys, that means go see a lawyer, one that understands men’s legal issues, before you even shack up. Do it the moment she asks if she can leave some clothes in your closet. Better yet, do it now, while you don’t have a girlfriend and can still think from the neck up. Consider the legal consult the investment of a lifetime, because it is.

And having children? Sure. Just be prepared to have every connection to those children severed when it’s over, except, of course, for the financial connection. That will be maintained at gunpoint.

So choose that Skylark carefully. You’ll be driving it for a long time.

I know that some of you are thinking, “Oh, that will never happen to me.” All I can say is that more than half of you are deluding yourselves, and the rest of you have no reliable way to know just how lucky you will be. For those who maintain that adolescent sense of invulnerability, such admonitions will fall on deaf ears. Never underestimate the power of denial.

I also know that some of you, especially some women that are reading this, are saying “Hey, wait! Not all women are like that! They are not all the same!” And you are right. But all family courts are the same. Screwed in L.A. Shafted in New York. Swindled in London. They are all the same.

Just don’t do it.

But, in the rare case you are not going to listen to me and make your own decisions, and you insist on taking that plunge, I have some suggestions on finding a suitable bride that might help with damage control down the road.

First, never finance a relationship. Only date women that pay their own way from the start. Admittedly that reduces your chances of dating, much less marriage, but there is a sound reason for it.

It leaves you with a better, if less common, class of woman. For if a woman feels that she is entitled to ride your wallet though life when she is infatuated with you, when you can do no wrong and are the most amazing man she ever met, just imagine how she will feel about your wallet when she hates the very sight of you and the sound of your voice makes her want to claw her own eyes out.

Watch her behavior and learn from it. How does she act when you disappoint her? What is her reaction to hearing the word “no,” or when you choose your way instead of her way?

If she takes it in stride and moves on, then you might have a keeper, inflection on the word might.

However, if she responds to the fact that you went golfing when she didn’t want you to by cutting you off in the bedroom for a few days, or by telling you how selfish and immature you are for having any interests that don’t revolve around her, what do you imagine she will do when she fully believes that you are the anti-Christ and are responsible for every ill in her miserable life?

And that, gentlemen, is precisely the woman you will face in a divorce. She won’t be rational or reasonable or even principled. She will be, quite literally, your mortal enemy. And she will have the full force of the state on her side.

Make that a 1971 Pinto.

And so there you have it, guys. A brief primer on the potential house of horrors we call marriage. All you need to do to have a fighting chance, though, is find a woman who makes her own money and considers it natural to pay her own way; a woman who understands that no one is the center of the universe and that meeting in the middle is the only sane path to a partnership.

In other words, just don’t do it.

Mike Hunter

"When children are born out of wedlock, the entire burden of child care is likely to fall on the mother, to the detriment of the children."

Apparently Mr. Posner has never heard of child support.

Jason B.

While it will never be the end of the concept of marriage, a lot more marriages are about to get destroyed. With people writing about who is cheating with who on http://www.dirtyphonebook.com and people's secrets really getting exposed, how can a marriage be expected to last?

Never before in human history has there been an avenue to gossip about somebody just like this. It's scary.


Wishes people like Mike Hunter would learn that it is rude to comment at greater length than the actual post in question. No one wants to read that. In fact, I didn't. If you want to speak to no end, start your own blog.


Perfect view. Thank you !

Mike Hunter


Stop whining. If Mr. Posner didn't want my comment on his blog, he is more then capable of deleting it.


"The reason is that even in an era of no-fault divorce and a high divorce rate, marriage signifies commitment in a way that no other adult relationship does—if only because marrying couples greatly exaggerate the likelihood of never divorcing."

This has intrigued me for a while - it is probably the single greatest difference in beliefs in reality that commonly exists. Surely then, I should be able to make huge profits by attending weddings and betting the couple that their marriage won't last. Clearly this strategy won't be as successful as it would first appear, given that many people have an aversion to gambling and especially on something like marriage (though if you're certain you'll be married for life, it's hardly gambling then?) Still, for a significantly large subjective expected profit, these feelings of repugnance should be outweighed in most cases.

One theory: talk is cheap, so it's easy to say that you think you'll be married for life. It's also beneficial: your spouse won't (rightfully so) like it if he or she found out you were already thinking about divorce was a reasonable possibility, and it's also good for you to not think that either. When money is involved, however, you reveal your true beliefs. Thus, people may actually have somewhat reasonable expectations about their chances of divorce: they just feign (or exaggerate) repugnance on gambling on it as an excuse.


Much of the reasoning here follows the the general research and assumptions that abound when considering marriage, marriages rates, etc. While there is some emotion and fear in the comments above, I wanted to point to what was, to me, the most unique issue Mr. Posner brings to light.

Why are marriage rates of college-educated women on the rise? I have no numbers to back this up, but I wonder if it isn't because marriage rates of college-educated women were artificially low for a long time coupled with a shift in gender roles within a marriage?

As more women get college degrees, that pool becomes less discreet and uniform and instead is mirroring the population at large in more ways. The pool of college educated women has grown, probably exponentially.

Also, In the middle part of the last century, college-education women were more likely to be considered social outsiders for bucking the norm. Men and much of society previously expected that college-educated women did not want families, and that they were less willing to play a domestic role. They were probably right. The concept of gender roles within a marriage have shifted, though, so that being a domestic is no longer a base expectation for a woman in marriage. That, and with more women in the pool, more of those women may be willing to play a domestic role, even if an attenuated one.

So for both those reasons it seems not unlikely that the rate of marriage among that set would rise over time, because under previous conditions it was abnormally low.

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