What Economics Says About Same Sex Marriage

Economics does a pretty good job at explaining and predicting patterns in marriage that would otherwise appear irrational.

Supporters of gay marriage hold rainbow-colored flags as they rally in front of the Supreme Court in Washington March 27, 2013. Credit: Reuters

Love and companionship make most people happy and generally represent two of the key reasons why couples marry.

In the economists’ view, love and companionship are a particular type of commodity: they cannot be purchased or traded on a market, but they can be produced by a household to generate happiness for its members.

There are potentially many other of these “household-produced” commodities, including raising children, preparing meals, caring for each other, and achieving economic stability.

The question is then how to produce these commodities more efficiently so that people are happier.

Efficiency in this case does not just mean “more”, but also “better quality” commodities. For instance, the happiness of a person is not just determined by the number of meals prepared and consumed, but also by their quality.

Economists look at marriage in this context. Examining the commodities marriage can produce helps us understand why people marry, how individuals sort each other into married couples, and what this means for society as a whole.

It turns out that economics does a pretty good job at explaining and predicting patterns in marriage that would otherwise appear irrational. For example economics can help explain why there is a difference between married and non-married people when it comes to if, and eventually how much, they want to work.

We marry because…

The fundamental economic view of marriage goes back to the theory of Nobel Laureate Gary Becker.

People can produce household commodities in some amount without necessarily having to marry. However, when people marry, they pool their resources together (the most important one being time) and can specialise in certain tasks. This…

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