The armchair economist in me wonders if marriage will someday be seen as a pre-Internet thing.

If you look at marriage the way an economist might, it is an exchange of services. Every marriage is different, but at its core you have two people who are choosing to provide one basket of services in return for a different basket. Historically, that meant the man provided protection and financial stability while the woman provided children, childcare, and household management. In modern times, the picture is more smeared, but in all cases the parties are getting something while providing something, including the emotional benefits.

Marriage made sense when the world was inefficient. You married a person nearby who could provide most of your important needs while hoping your lesser needs could also somehow be met. It made perfect sense in the pre-Internet age.

But today you can arrange for any of your individual needs via Internet. You can find lovers who don't want a commitment. You can find people willing to trade sex for travel experiences. You can find surrogates to have your baby, or you can adopt from another country. Then you can find a nanny who is willing to work primarily for room and board. You can find an intellectual partner, a business partner, a tennis partner, you name it. The Internet provides all.

For the first time in history it is feasible to create a virtual spouse comprised of a dozen separate relationships. And each would be optimized. Instead of dragging your spouse to the opera or a baseball game, you go with someone who loves your hobbies as much as you do.

You might assume the virtual spouse doesn't give you the "soul mate" connection you seek. You can still have a special connection with people, but you don't have to drag that person to your monster truck rallies. You can be in love with one person, enjoy activities with another, and find another who is a good listener. And the good listener might be putting up with you because you provide some other sort of benefit in return.

In other words, the Internet allows us to have a barter economy of relationships, as in I'll do this for you if you do that for me.

You might reject this line of thinking if you have a religious or romantic view of marriage. But I think economics always trumps those things in the long run.

With the current system, in which half of marriages end in divorce, you end up with tremendous economic disruption and hardship. With virtual marriages, you never have a big divorce with one person because your relationship is diversified. You could lose your massage therapist, your running partner and your "work spouse" all in one month without feeling especially sad about it.

Anticipating your objections, assume traditional marriage stays a popular option forever, but it moves from being the default arrangement to one of many options.

Do you think marriage as a societal norm will someday be seen as a pre-Internet thing?

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+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 22, 2013
Pre-internet? No.

While the thought of utopia or bliss does seem worth chasing at times, I don't believe the actual realization of such fancies hold much merit. What would life be without the occasional bumps and letdowns? Boring, with a capital B, that's what!

Truth is, while people complain about things that make them miserable, they seem most happy that someone cares enough to listen to their aches and pains. Some are even incapable of pleasure and enjoyment withtout the source of their discontent.

The picture you paint of a perfect spouse (or spousal hive) sounds reasonable and resonant with what people say they want. However, what people actually want and need may be quite different, perhaps even unbeknownst to themselves.

Sure, people talk plenty about finding a perfect mate. But mostly, they just find themselves falling into relationships and marriage by serendipity. In this, they make their true intentions clear.

Challenge, surprise, and unexpected twists really spice things up well and add a lot of flavor to life. Yeah, finding that perfect one would be really nice if we were nothing more than orderly robots. Being human, we end up in moments of chaos and discord because that's part of what keeps things interesting and worth having.

In the midst of hardship, we learn and grow. It makes things complicated, but it's for our own good. In the short term, that argument with your spouse may not seem pleasant, but looking back years later you may see yourself in a light you never would have shone on yourself otherwise. Likewise, you may not have wanted to attend some event with your significant other, but in doing so you may have benefited by extending yourself beyond your comfort zone. Even the fact that relationships sometimes end in divorce increases the value of marriage and love.

Besides, as far as perfect love goes, being the most perfect person for someone else goes a lot further in that direction than selfishly seeking a person(s) who satisfies your every whim.
Nov 20, 2013
There's one more thing I haven't seen covered yet (at least not thoroughly) - sex.

Your economic analysis may show that women no longer need commitment for sex, but real-world women do. Sure, there are a few out there looking for FWB, but - just like in real life - it's very difficult for a man to find an [attractive] woman looking for sex without commitment. Perhaps that's less true for the young, but eventually the age-old needs are unlikely to change.
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 20, 2013
Scott - You should research the statistics behind the "half of marriages end in divorce" claim. Part of the conclusion its proponents want to be drawn from this half truth is that people entering into marriage have only a 50% chance of succeeding. But that isn't true. A person who has been married and divorced is likely to marry and divorce again. So there are a lot of multiple divorced individuals out there that skew the overall stats. Take a closer look and you'll see that while half of marriages may end up in divorce it is not true that half of MARRIED COUPLES will or have divorced. That number is closer to 25 percent. The serial divorcers skew the stats and make marriage seem a lot more risky than it is.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 19, 2013
Fear of rejection, mortality, and insignificance. That's why marriage exist. Because even though the world might think you are !$%* and we all get that feeling at some point in our life. There is that one moment, whether it lasted in the end or not, that one moment in time that you have proof on paper, you meant something to someone. It looks good on paper. And certainly the peer pressure doesn't help which is also part of the fear of rejection by our peers. After going to 4 wedding in the last month, my friend was going to give her boyfriend an ultimatum to propose after 9 years of dating, granted he has been talking about proposing but just waiting for the right time. The thought of her many other friends getting married, made her feel like crap. Though I am sure her friends wouldn't think of her any less whether she got engaged or not. Her perceptions and fears drove that determination. We all succumb to fear in the end. It's not a bad thing to have fears, fear can be good, it keeps us moving and saves us from danger.

As much as bartering on the internet is probably more practical, it doesn't make us feel very significant. But one could argue that the feeling of significance is in itself a delusion.

So no, marriage is definitely not a pre-internet thing. Not as long as we are all lucid with our fears or delusions. And of course I am oversimplifying everything. I have friends that are afraid of getting married, so it's a two way street.
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 19, 2013
Although I agree with you about marriage being an economic agreement rather than something romantic, I think we will not see that coming anytime soon.

People forget that today's marriage (one on one) was actually invented by men who couldn't get a spouse, because when we were living in hunting-gatherer tribes it was usually the strongest/biggest hunter who could have any female he wanted, while all the others were sexually frustrated. Since the only way to get sex was to beat the biggest and strongest guy in the tribe, they figured out what "a beautiful mind" of John Nash proved mathematically and what got him the Nobel prize in economics - co-operation works. So, they ganged up on the "chief", killed him and shared the spoils (females). This still happens among chimps when the frustrated lesser males become too frustrated with the leader.

Being somewhat smarter, our species changed the alpha-male rule for good, so everyone got happier. Those "beta-male" tribes had a bit more offspring, plus they killed each other less frequently than the old "alpha-male" tribes, and that's how those tribes became stronger in numbers, which required spreading by conquest and the rest is history...

This is a bit simplified for today's internet readers.

Did you ever ask yourself why the women usually take up men's surname and not the other way around?
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 18, 2013
You say life is efficient now but I fail to see how. My father's generation could very easily maintain a full household using a simple job. My mother would do the unpaid work (household, child care). Nowadays, both partners need to work, and then still need to do the unpaid work.

Anyways, I resent your idea of micro transactions and services being exchanged. Other than ignoring this little thing called love, it also ignores the possibility to optimize within a marriage, which you can do right now if you have a healthy relationship.

I don't drag my girl to monster truck races because she would hate it. And she tells me. Likewise I wouldn't go shopping with her. Because I hate that. Therefore, in our relationship we let each other be. We do things together that we must (responsibilities) and that we both enjoy.

I think your proposal is not efficient or natural, it is a way to avoid work in a relationship. You are forced to do things you don't want. You don't fix it but look elsewhere. You don't get enough sex, but rather than fixing it, you look elsewhere. All of the "inefficiencies" that you mention can easily be solved in an adult relationship, but that requires standing your ground. I guess it is true to hide behind a computer and consult the internet.
Nov 18, 2013
"It is easy to take off your clothes and have sex. People do it all the time. But to open up your soul to another person, letting them into your spirit, thoughts, fears, future, hopes, dreams… now that is being naked."

That is what marriage is. Having another person who knows what you are going to say before you do. Knows what you need before you need it. And does what you want before you want it. Someone so special you wake up every day and say what can I do for her/him, not what can they do for me.

Google is working on knowing what we think. It could use a good marriage as its model.
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 18, 2013
Yikes! When you proposed to your wife, did it involve a whiteboard?
+18 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 17, 2013
Marriage 1.0, we don't need you anymore.

Sure, it's starts of easy enough: "Guys use love to get sex. Girls use sex to get love."

Sex is cheap for guys, so they focus on quantity. Sex is very expensive for girls (years of committed resources), so they focus on quality. Conflict! Who wins?

Both: the woman gets the man to agree to stick around and help (love) and gives the guy sex.

Men, being the pigs we are, will do and say anything to have sex. Sex is done, time to move on, forgetting any agreements.

How does society stop him? Single moms are not good for society.

Enter the legal system. Laws are designed to help society as a whole. Is the man better off because he's now legally bound to stay and help? Certainly not. He's looking for quantity, and sticking around to help is hurting his numbers.

But Marriage 1.0 wasn't invented to help him - it was invented to help her - and society as a whole. This is why religion pushes it. This is why governments push it. The good of the many over the good of the few, or the one. (Thanks Spock.)

But how does Marriage 1.0 do this? It uses TWO STICKS called Alimony and Child Support. Leave a marriage - and get hit with the Alimony stick. Have kids? Get hit with Child Support stick.

Sensible right?

BUT #1: Marriage 1.0 shouldn't worry about keeping a couple together that has no children. The concept of Alimony has no legal purpose for childless couples. Sorry house-moms and dads! Society just doesn't think you add value by being married.

BUT #2: A man who has sex, whether through Marriage 1.0 -OR- "Wild night of sex", will get hit with Child Support.

Waaaait a minute:
If we abolish Alimony, and Child Support happens even without marriage, then what good is marriage?


Exactly. There's nothing left. Since children will be protected in either scenario, there is no longer a need to have it.

When society started to see people having kids outside of marriage, there were two options: Force the villains to get married, or invent Child Support. Since it wasn't practical to force people into marriage (who was the father anyway?) - they went for Child Support.

AND Child Support solved the problem. But instead of retiring Marriage 1.0 in place of Child Support 1.0, they kept both. Ouch!

BTW - don't think I'm against marriage. I'm not.

I think people should make a commitment to each other, and share a life together. It's a beautiful thing.

But it should be voluntary without legal consequences: kind of like dating. We should be able to break up or date as we will - without a looming legal specter forcing us to do something that doesn't make sense.

For instance: If I'm dating someone and she gains 300 lbs, I'm gone. If I'm married to the same person, I'm legally liable, even though she violated our unspoken agreement. If the lady knows I'm not obligated to stay, she has more incentive to eat less chocolate. Everybody wins.

Personally - I recommend people don't get married - because of the legal reasons. It's not about love or practicality. I urge them to forget about society pressures and norms, and use their heads.

If you trust someone enough to get married to them, then you don't need a legal system to force them to stick to you.

Consider How terrible: living with someone because you have to - and not because you want to.
Nov 17, 2013
Specialization has a cost as well as a benefit. I'd conjecture that the marginal utility of adding an additional significant relationship is outweighed by the fixed cost. Put another way, who could stomach more than one nagging spouse?
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 16, 2013
"You might reject this line of thinking if you have a religious or romantic view of marriage. But I think economics always trumps those things in the long run. "

It would have been more impressive if you had made the prediction before my religious leaders did 50 years ago.
Nov 16, 2013
There is only one problem with this line of thinking. Girlfriends cost more than wives, in the long run.
Nov 16, 2013
Scott, did you ever see the old '70's movie "The Harrad Experiment?" It's about a fictional college where the students abandon the traditional mores of pairing and explore multiple sexual relationships.

In the movie (based on the book of the same name), James Whitmore and Tippi Hedren are the married couple who run the experiment. Don Johnson (of Miami Vice fame) is the outlier student who tries to screw (pun intended) with the experiment to satisfy himself.

The irony of the story is the married couple observing the experiment while refusing to take part themselves. This supposed academic distance is actually a reflection of their true feelings. They keep making excuses for not participating that end up overpowering any conclusions that may have been reached.

When you get academics too involved with the real world, they tend to screw things up. In a word, Obamacare. Then, they distance themselves from the results and rationalize ways to convince themselves they shouldn't have to live by the rules they impose on others. Sound familiar?

I would hazard a guess that your intellectual side is attempting to distance itself from your emotional side. This disintegration attempt is doomed to failure, because making proposals or writing laws based on half of your existence is a fool's errand.

You may feel you have been hobbled by the upbringing that led you to marry S h e l l y. You may feel you're liberating others by proposing they not follow the strict path you've chosen for yourself.

As with James Whitmore's character in the aforementioned movie, you are assuming, as the lawyers say, facts that are not in evidence. As an intellectual exercise, dissolving the man-woman bond known as marriage is fun. But when it becomes, as you have said, a prediction for the future of human relationships, it slides off the rails.

No human relationship is perfect. But I have the feeling that you would no more give up your wife S h e l l y than I would give up my wife of 31 years in pursuit of your ideal fantasy. Marriage just seems to work out best. Go figure.

Nov 16, 2013
I think some of this is already happening. But there's also more overhead with multiple relationships. And I get emotionally invested in most of my relationships. So if I lost my massage therapist, running partner and "work spouse" all in one month, I'd be sad. So my inner economist prefers a smaller number of relationships with people who share many of my interests and values.

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 16, 2013
"That's actually an urban myth."

No it isn't.

(And it's an easy figure to check up on...)

Nov 15, 2013
While I readily admit that modern interpretation of marriage often leaves something to be desired, there are still ideals worth building one's life around. God referred to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden as the man and his wife. What God therefore joined together, let not the internet put asunder. Seriously. Maybe He had good reasons to establish the 'classical' marriage relationship.

If you want to know what marriage is supposed to look like, look here: https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation

+9 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 15, 2013
I don't think marriage will be seen as antiquated soon enough to be seen as pre-internet. The institution will dominate a few more generations, and by then it's more likely to be pre-[something else]. Pre-teleporter, pre-immortality, pre-OneWorldGovernment, etc.

Also, I don't think you're giving enough economic value to the strength of the emotional bond that forms over a diverse set of shared experiences. Each experience may have an incremental value when experienced alone, but I believe there is an exponential value to having the same partner for activities. So I get more value of doing something I'm different about with my wife, than doing something I enjoy with someone I don't see very often.
+30 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 15, 2013
It doesn't matter now ... My wife said it's too late for me to diversify. :(
Nov 15, 2013
This is the same kind of notion that is discussed when talking about the boundaries of the firm. Why do you need a corporation, when you could just achieve the same thing with all sorts of different contracts between different individual people? The answer is contracting costs.

If I have to contract individually with each person you suggest I might engage in a contract with, that gets very costly (prohibitively so). And, since there is also no connection between the contracts, it becomes relatively costless for any one individual to break their contract with you, making the contracting cost even worst.

Finally, economics fully accepts that my utility might be defined over parameters influenced by my religious beliefs, so, if those beliefs hold, it is fully economically rational for me to marry only for religious purposes. Utility need not be defined merely over consumption or wealth, and in reality, is not.

In my experiences, unlike most legal contracts, marriages that are entered in to with both parties expecting to "get" something rarely endure, or at least, often fail to live up to what a truly fulfilling marriage could be. And, most people who enter into any kind of relationship looking to "get" something are rarely truly happy.
Nov 15, 2013
All of which presupposes that the hypothetical single parent has a good enough salary to cover all of this. The "traditional marriage" arrangement, at least of the mid to late 20th century, is that the husband makes enough salary to support the family while the wife does all the household tasks (cooking, cleaning, etc.) and child rearing at no additional cost, or that both parents make enough salary to cover daycare costs and whatever meal and household task expenses that they decide to outsource to restaurants and a cleaning service.

Many single parent situations these days, especially where this parent is the mother, relies on external monetary support (read: child support from the father and/or government handouts).

Your general point is a good microcosm for the internet in general though. Pick a hobby, the more obscure the better. Pre-internet it was very difficult to find other people that shared this interest. With the internet you can surround yourself with these people to the point that your obscure hobby is something that most of your friends do also.
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