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I love you, co-consumer

January 18, 2008

The Economist's Free Exchange blog points to a new essay by two Wharton professors who argue that the economic basis of marriage and family has shifted dramatically. People used to get married and have kids to gain production efficiencies - to expand the available labor to, say, run a farm. Marriage, the authors note, "provided the key means to strategic 'mergers'– a way to form alliances and boost the financial welfare of the household."

But that world's gone, at least in the wealthy West. As the market has progressed to take over most of the supply-side roles that once existed inside marriages and families, the old economic rationale, and motivation, for being wives and husbands, moms and dads, has eroded. "So," the authors write, "what drives modern marriage? We believe that the answer lies in a shift from the family as a forum for shared production, to shared consumption ... the key today is consumption complementarities - activities that are not only enjoyable, but are more enjoyable when shared with a spouse. We call this new model of sharing our lives 'hedonic marriage.' ... As consumption increases, so too will the demand to have someone with whom to share these pleasures."

I think that means that money can buy you love - or at least it can create the economic conditions most conducive to love. And, hey, what's the difference?

Comments

“I think that means that money can buy you love - or at least it can create the economic conditions most conducive to love. And, hey, what's the difference?”

Looks to me like you are doing a little fishing with that last comment, but for what?

Try exchanging consumption with materialism, the end product is not utilitarian but excess that provides nothing for love, as I understand it, but possibly epicurean pleasures. Once the American Dream has been achieved, feeding it consumes the rest of ones time. So both parents work to feed the dream, the children get farmed out, family structures and the traditional family becomes a thing of the past. Not good in my mind and Betham (1748-1832) is probably turning in his grave.

Okay I took the bait. Alan


Posted by: alan [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 18, 2008 05:46 PM

In the future we'll see new proposals of marriage:
http://geekandpoke.typepad.com/geekandpoke/2008/01/wii-you-marry-m.html

Bye,
Oliver

Posted by: Oliver Widder [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 19, 2008 04:26 AM

Sorry, the link does not work.
Again:
Geek And Poke

Bye,
Oliver

Posted by: Oliver Widder [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 19, 2008 04:28 AM

Wow, "bait" is flying around.

Betham (1748-1832) is probably turning in his grave.

Perhaps you mean that he's wrestless in his chair? (He's not buried.)

In any event, I take issue with Stevenson and Wolfers essay, particularly where they write:

So what drives modern marriage? We believe that the answer lies in a shift from the family as a forum for shared production, to shared consumption. [....] the key today is consumption complementarities-activities that are not only enjoyable, but are more enjoyable when shared with a spouse. We call this new model of sharing our lives “hedonic marriage”.

The phrases "what drives" and "the key today" are weasel words. What is a "drive" in this context? Where exactly is this drive supposed to be located? Nestled between the excepts quoted above, they felt compelled to toss in:

let’s be clearer: modern marriage is about love and companionship.

Apparently they are making a claim about romantic love? or desire? That would fit with "hedonic". I really can't make heads or tails out of their claim because I can't find a generous enough reading of them to even begin.

The facts on the ground with which they wrestle are along these lines: Looking around, and across recent time, we see oft-repeated patterns. There are many marriages that follow similar arrangements, such as two corporately employed parents and large portions of household revenue going towards non-productive spending. There is something non-random about this repetition in space and time.

So the right questions to ask are what forces interact to create the institutional conditions of these marriages, and what dynamic causes this pattern to be reproduced? For example, many characteristics of modern marriage are attributable to the legal status of marriage. The participants in a marriage are emmeshed in a legal regime that defines their rights, responsibilities, and visibility (e.g., to government). So, we ought to look case-wise at how those elements were formed and deployed. And, for example, the pattern is partly reproduced by economic incentives and dissincentives: everything from credit favoritism towards the newly married to stigmas attached to other kinds of arrangement. We ought to ask what forms those conceptions of self -- and a dismissive "hedonism" is no explanation at all (for that would be fail to be a historic explanation).

It makes some sense, to say as they do, that marriage in the past helped to secure social and economic arrangements between larger groups. We don't see or hear as much, today, about the kinds of marriage described in Austin's "Pride and Prejudice," for example. Inter-generational succession of property is not often at issue (it appears).

Yet, one need look no further than to the issue of gay marriage to question the "hedonism" question. Among the reasons advocates give for legalizing gay marriage are: access to spousal job benefits, such as health care; granting of spousal rights of access to visit someone in the hospital or make medical decisions on behalf of someone; equality in parental rights in, for example, the treatment of partners by schools. Are these "co-consumptive" concerns? Is that "hedonic marriage"?

Their article begins (emphasis added):

Stephanie Coontz’s careful and persuasive history of marriage adds some much needed factual background to an over-politicized debate.

If they have started from the premise that marriage is roughly a-political, compared to how it is popularly regarded, then it is unsurprising that they have little trouble reaching that as their conclusion.

-t

Posted by: Tom Lord [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 19, 2008 01:17 PM

Is this Betham character in any way related to the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham?

Posted by: Greg Quinn [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 23, 2008 04:41 AM

I am wondering if Stevenson and Wolfers are Single or married . this is a pathetic way to look at the institution of marriage . Co Consumer is worst thing one can staple to their weblock.


Susan Sarandon has done a beetr job that these proff . in movie "Shall We Dance " She says
"We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'.""

someone please send a DVD of that movie to these Proffs .hope they spend their research grant on some usefull stuff and not to invent crap like this .

Posted by: pacificleo [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 25, 2008 12:43 AM

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