Economics and the marriage wars

Association of Christian Economists
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Faith and Economics, 2008, 51 (Spring), pp. 1 - 29
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We critique the economic analysis of marriage and divorce descending from Becker (1981): we call this the "economic" approach. Marriage is based on the "productive" gains available from specialization in market production and household production, and on the production of children. ln the more recent development of the theory, the husband and wife bargain over the gains. This analysis contrasts with the "covenant" view of marriage which is based on the Judea-Christian tradition. The ethical focus of the covenant view is self-giving love, which is not dependent on economic efficiency. We suggest that the changing attitudes to marriage and divorce in the West may reflect "motivation crowding out," as the economic approach erodes the values underpinning the covenant view. Marriage, like the monarchy over the last three centuries, remains popular in many quarters. But the mere existence of an institution can mask its wholesale transformation.
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