And They Lived Happily Thereafter

It is said that marriages are made in heaven. Marriage has a ‘partner effect’ i.e. a spouse influences the life of their significant other particularly in career and occupational status. But why marry? Why divorce? What economists say about this? Let’s get some insightful information.

 Becker’s Marriage Model:

Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker first postulated an economic model of marriage (in year 1974). Many economists furthered his theory. Marriage could be a market since there is demand and supply of willing persons to get married and live life together. This is evident from matrimonial services, classified advertisements, social network, etc. He said, “According to the economic approach, a person decides to marry when the utility expected from marriage exceeds that expected from remaining single or from additional search for a more suitable mate. Similarly, a married person terminates his (or her) marriage when the utility anticipated from becoming single or marrying someone else exceeds the loss in utility from separation, including losses due to physical separation from one’s children, division of joint assets, legal fees, and so forth.”

(Discussion of this article restricts to this model only.)

Photo Courtesy: Pixabay
Will the ‘marriage’ concept fade away in future?

Why Marry? :

Anthropologists might help us in explaining the role of family, community, settlements and civilizations in human evolution and development. We could outsource (very harsh to sound in this matter) or avail services of a third person for sexual pleasures, child birth and upbringing & even monetary benefits without getting married. Becker stated that desire of own child is the main reason why people marry. He further stated that economies of scale benefit couple justifying why they live together.

Obviously, ‘own’ child could not be the sole criterion for marriage. Also, if staying together is justified, ‘live in relationships’ could also serve the same purpose. But only ‘marriage’ provides legal support and identity. If ‘live-ins’ get universal permissions, will the ‘marriage’ concept fade away? Whether stability would get affected in such case?

Becker assumed that marriage is voluntary. Males and females entered this market on their own. Also, there decisions are rational.

In India, marriages are influenced by religions, castes and sub-castes. Also, some couples are not even allowed to see each other until the D-day.  Data from the 2011 Indian Human Development Survey shows that 95% of women married within their own caste and 41% reported to have no say in their marriage.

He also said that rise in property income and wage rates provide an incentive to get married.

This might be the first screening formula in ‘arranged marriages’. We have seen such arguments in Bollywood movies too.


The epic Mahabharata itself provides examples of polygamy (marriage having more than one wife or husband at the same time). Draupadi married five warriors called Pandavas (polyandry) and Pandu, the father of Pandavas had two wives (polygyny). Becker discussed both in his paper. He mentioned that sex ratio is pivotal in such situations. Polygyny is more common in the world. His logic over this goes back to ‘own children’ argument. In polygyny, father of the own child would be known while in polyandry, it would be difficult to figure out who the father was. However, he stated that monogamy (one man marrying one woman) is the most efficient and optimal form of marriage.

Everything might sound too harsh and you might judge Becker as a male chauvinist. But empirical evidences (when male chauvinism was too high and women had very limited rights) validate what he stated.

The model did not explain the validity of dowry. It is a very serious issue in India. If economic logic is applied, demand for women is more than its supply (poor sex ratio). Economics says that the value of women would increase in this scenario. Given the situation, either females must be paid for marriages (opposite of dowry) or polyandry should be back in vogue. But neither seems to happen!


Becker regarded children as the most important marriage-specific investment. He stated that since investment grows with duration, incentive to separate from marriage reduces unless he or she recognizes that marriage was a “mistake”, leading to divorce.

Jeremy Greenwood and Nezih Guner (2009) argue that technological progress in the household sector (dishwashers, frozen foods, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, Tupperware, etc.) had reduced the need for labour at home. As a result, it is much easier to live alone. This has resulted in a smaller fraction of the population being married and a higher rate of divorce in the USA.

Again male chauvinism explains this. Whether marriage is a tool to get personal labour?


Becker mentioned that each marriage can be considered as two-person firm where either member being ‘entrepreneur’ ‘hires’ the other for ‘salary’ and receives residual ‘profits’. Becker also tried defining some intangible and subtle words like ‘care’ and ‘love’ in his model.

After reading the entire theory, I felt (with due respect to the author) that it was very male-centric (since empirical evidences were older), materialistic and non-holistic in nature. No economic model can change the mind set and attitude towards women & calculate the amount of love, care and affection.

My intention was just to make you aware that there exists such type of theory and experts work on it to improve the study and inferences. If you are happily married, you might now be calculating ‘gains from marriage’. Some might feel that their marriage was not all that bad.  If you are about to marry, then this theory might scare you a bit. And if you don’t want to marry then this theory is worth reading for you. It seems that marriage has been taken very seriously by social scientists and economists but I wonder how it still aces the comedy shows and joke books.

At the end, I would wish you ‘All the Best’ for your current and future path of marriage and quote an Anonymous SMS joke –

“Some remain single and make wonders happen.

Some have boyfriends and see wonders happen.

The rest get married and wonder what happened.”

 – Swapnil Karkare

Further Reading:

  1. Gary S. Becker (1974).  “A Theory of Marriage” published in National Bureau of Economic Research 
  2. “The Economics of Marriage” by Sumit Mishra published on August 20, 2016 in Mint on Sunday
  3. Freakonomics  Radio podcast “Why Marry?, Part 1”
  4. “Economics of Marriage” from Wikipedia


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One Comment Add yours

  1. Nikhil says:

    It’s good yar go on and reveal more secrets about life with Economic way.


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