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Marriage: Till Death Do Us Part(?)

 

Premise: I have to admit from the beginning that I am not married myself, thus what is written below is an outsider’s insights into explaining the phenomena of marriage.

Marriage is a phenomenon strongly intertwined within our culture and everyday life. It is almost a “must do” thing in Georgian traditional society, and it has to be approved either by religious authority or by the state, or both. A recent study about Georgian youth entitled “Generation in Transition, Youth Study Georgia – 2016” by the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung, shows the 14-29 age cohort’s perceptions, awareness, and approaches towards marriage. The graph below presents the distribution of answers to the following question: what is the advantage of marriage over cohabitation?

According to Georgian youth, the two main reasons why official marriage is better than cohabitation are: first, it gives greater responsibility to partners (43%); second, marriage is more respected in Georgian society (25%). These two reasons are followed by a third explanation - marriage gives greater responsibility towards children (12%).  It appears that marriage is perceived to be a better functioning mechanism than cohabitation when it comes to partners’ responsibilities and child rearing. There is less pressure from society if you are officially married (and if you have already fulfilled your main duty – have children). 

Why has marriage become such a solid part of our existence?

1. First of all, marriage is an institution, and a very old one. Institutions, according to Douglass North, are the "humanly devised constraints that structure political, economic and social interactions." Constraints, according to North, are always devised as formal rules (constitutions, laws, property rights) and/or as informal restraints (sanctions, taboos, customs, traditions, codes of conduct), which usually contribute to the perpetuation of order and safety within a market or society. Marriage, then, is an institution that is made up of many complex layers of formal and informal rules. They range from religious wedding vows to the laws regulating civil marriages. Moreover, behavior before and within marriage is heavily influenced by cultural norms (i.e. some cultures still have bride prices, dowries, and polygamy). However, despite all its possible variations, marriage as an institution has survived many centuries and is still a very important part of our everyday lives.

2. The fact that the institution of marriage has survived until today proves that it is very efficient. It means that marriage/family as an institution has strong survival characteristics relative to other methods of organization trying to achieve the same purpose, and these survival characteristics are robust across time, locations, and cultures! Potential survival characteristics/gains mentioned in economic literature include the ability to exploit economies of scale or comparative advantage through specialization (Becker 1985), risk sharing (Kotlikoff and Spivak 1981; Hess 2004), the production and consumption of household public goods, including one’s own offspring (Becker 1965), and the provision of credit (Cox 1987, 1990). None of these gains, however, are exceptional and exclusive to individuals in conjugal unions and, therefore, they do not provide a solid rationale for the existence of marriage.

The basic family structure centers around one man and one woman. Families have proven to be a very efficient method of raising children and passing human capital from one generation to another. There have been attempts to raise children outside of families since the time of the ancient Greeks, yet in no case have they have survived. From an evolutionary biology point of view, an important survival feature of marriage is that it gives females (who bear the major cost of childbearing and child raising), insurance against male abandonment. Some examples from the animal kingdom seem to be consistent with this point of view. In some species, females will not agree to copulate until males have constructed a nest for them – thus obliging them to make pre-copulation investments. In other species, females do not hurry to breed, and take some time in order to spot signs of fidelity and domesticity in advance. Feminine coyness and prolonged courtship or engagement periods are very common among animals. Marriage seems to serve similar purpose in the human kingdom.

But it is not only females who benefit from marriage. Bethmann and Kvasnicka (2011) present a very interesting aspect of marriage from the male’s point of view. They argue that marriage serves the fundamental purpose of mitigating the risks of mating market failure that arise from incomplete information on individual paternity. While one always knows who is the mother of a child, paternity may be doubtful. If we go back to animal kingdom, in many species males enforce a period of prolonged courtship before copulating with a female, driving away all other males who approach her, and preventing her from escaping. This strategy assures him that the child will be his own, and to avoid being the unwitting benefactor of another male’s children.

So, marriage seems to serve a dual regulatory function in human society: on one hand, it gives insurance to females; on the other hand, it serves as a mechanism to cope with information asymmetry about individual paternity for males. Greater paternity confidence motivates more male parental investment in children. Different types of marriages ensure different levels of investment in children. Monogamy is considered to be the most efficient in this regard (Perry 2016).

3. Marriage always involves third parties, mainly the church and the state, who issue a “license” – right – to form a family.  This “license” is usually of life-time duration. Think of wedding vows like “till death do us part”! “Licenses” issued by the state give very concrete benefits like inheritance, ownership benefits, spouse’ legal rights, entitlements to various programs, surrogate decisions, child adoption rights, etc.

Apart from providing these benefits, licensing by third parties adds stability to the institution of marriage by raising the costs of divorce. Usually these costs are very high in case of religious wedding (for believers), and moderate when it comes to civil marriages.

The solidity of its survival features is very important for any institution. If evolutionary biologists and institutional economists are right, and reproduction, child upbringing, parental certainty and female insurance are the main factors behind the survival of marriage, recent changes in technology and in the social environment may challenge the survival and effectiveness of this institution. Improvements in household technology and increased support from the state have been reducing childrearing costs. In addition, female labor force participation and employment rates have been increasing, and women have become more and more independent. Genetic paternity tests are now available and males can cope with the above-mentioned asymmetry of information about paternity issues at a relatively low cost. It is not surprising that, starting from the second half of the 20th century, we have witnessed increasing divorce rates and increasing rates of cohabitation, as well as a growing number of single parents.

All these changes imply that society’s rationale for regulating the mating market through marriage is weakening. The above-reported Georgian survey data seem to already indicate the first signs of this change. While talking about marriage’s advantage over cohabitation, in fact, respondents put greater responsibility towards children at only 3rd place, below the alternative explanation that marriage is more respected in Georgian society.

I might be accused of not mentioning love and trust and other key aspects of romantic relationships. I am ignoring them on purpose as they constitute the basis not only of marriage but also of cohabitation and therefore – do not give marriage any advantage in this regard.

I would like to conclude this piece with one question that I find extremely interesting: will marriage, possibly our longest-lasting institution, survive all the recent changes in society, and overcome the profound challenges it is currently facing?


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Eric Livny on Thursday, 23 February 2017 08:39

When economists start analyzing love and marriages...
A great, thought provoking peace, Maka! Let me comment from the perspective of someone who participated in more than one marriage, both religious and civil :-)

Since family and marriage are two different institutions, I think it would be useful, for analytical purposes, to discuss them separately.

Families can exist without formal contracts and third-party licenses to perform all the evolutionary functions you describe in the blog. A formal contract can even weaken the moral incentives to cooperate and consider each others needs. A contract can be a love-killer. Thus, one has to ask what is the specific value added of the marriage institution. This clearly differs for religious and civil marriages.

The institution of religious marriage makes it very difficult (sometimes impossible) to dissolve a family, providing children with long-term insurance. When accompanied by a religious prohibition of pre-marital sex for young females (still, very much a Georgian tradition!), the institution of religious marriage can ensure that children are indeed born in a supportive family situation, to a loving mother and father, with additional insurance provided by the grandpas and grandmas on both sides, whose blessing is an essential condition for a religious marriage to take place (in any cultural setting I can think of). Thus, when seen from a social evolution perspective, communities that institute religious marriage are more likely to survive and thrive by virtue of having more successful children.

An interesting question an evolutionary economist or biologist might ask is when and why did religious (impossible-to-dissolve) marriages become the socially accepted norm. I dont have an answer, but it may have something to do with the weakening of primitive social insurance arrangements within tribal communities. Until then, children may have been sufficiently well protected by solidarity within tribes and other types of kinship-based communities.

The institution of civil marriage (again, I would ask when and why did it appear) is already an evolutionary step forward. It is not all that difficult to break (Ive done it a couple of times), but it does provides couples with some transparency and predictability as to the terms on which they could separate (property, children, alimony payments, etc.). For the civil marriage to perform that function, the legal system in the country should, of course, contain relevant provisions. Civil marriages are a relatively recent phenomenon reflecting the weakening of religious prohibitions, and the parallel development of publicly provided social insurance, health and schooling services (these appeared very, very recently, starting in the second half of the 19th century, and only in some places in Europe).

Finally, the legal systems and societies continued to evolve in the 20th and 21st centuries. Fathers to children are nowadays almost universally required to provide for their children, whether born in or outside a family, pre- or post-marriage. People sharing a household do now have equal legal rights to common property even if not married, and even if gay. As a result, pre-marital or extra-marital sex does not carry as many risks for the mothers and children, allowing liberal societies to survive from the evolutionary perspective, at least for the time being.

When economists start analyzing love and marriages... A great, thought provoking peace, Maka! Let me comment from the perspective of someone who participated in more than one marriage, both religious and civil :-) Since family and marriage are two different institutions, I think it would be useful, for analytical purposes, to discuss them separately. Families can exist without formal contracts and third-party licenses to perform all the evolutionary functions you describe in the blog. A formal contract can even weaken the moral incentives to cooperate and consider each others needs. A contract can be a love-killer. Thus, one has to ask what is the specific value added of the marriage institution. This clearly differs for religious and civil marriages. The institution of religious marriage makes it very difficult (sometimes impossible) to dissolve a family, providing children with [b]long-term[/b] insurance. When accompanied by a religious [b]prohibition of pre-marital sex[/b] for young females (still, very much a Georgian tradition!), the institution of religious marriage can ensure that children are indeed born in a supportive family situation, to a loving mother and father, with additional insurance provided by the grandpas and grandmas on both sides, whose blessing is an essential condition for a religious marriage to take place (in any cultural setting I can think of). Thus, when seen from a social evolution perspective, communities that institute religious marriage are more likely to survive and thrive by virtue of having more successful children. An interesting question an evolutionary economist or biologist might ask is when and why did religious (impossible-to-dissolve) marriages become the socially accepted norm. I dont have an answer, but it may have something to do with the weakening of primitive social insurance arrangements within [b]tribal[/b] communities. Until then, children may have been sufficiently well protected by solidarity within tribes and other types of kinship-based communities. The institution of civil marriage (again, I would ask when and why did it appear) is already an evolutionary step forward. It is not all that difficult to break (Ive done it a couple of times), but it does provides couples with some transparency and predictability as to the terms on which they could separate (property, children, alimony payments, etc.). For the civil marriage to perform that function, the legal system in the country should, of course, contain relevant provisions. Civil marriages are a relatively recent phenomenon reflecting the weakening of religious prohibitions, and the parallel development of publicly provided social insurance, health and schooling services (these appeared very, very recently, starting in the second half of the 19th century, and only in some places in Europe). Finally, the legal systems and societies continued to evolve in the 20th and 21st centuries. Fathers to children are nowadays almost universally required to provide for their children, whether born in or outside a family, pre- or post-marriage. People sharing a household do now have equal legal rights to common property even if not married, and even if gay. As a result, pre-marital or extra-marital sex does not carry as many risks for the mothers and children, allowing liberal societies to survive from the evolutionary perspective, at least for the time being.
Maka Chitanava on Thursday, 23 February 2017 12:47

Dear Eric,
Thank you for your interesting comment. Questions you raise are very interesting ones, but I do not have answers. Will try to research that issue further. Indeed, the institution of civil marriage seems an evolutionary step forward.
As for the terms, you are right, family and marriage are different things. I once use them as synonyms in the text, but they should be separated. I had marriage/family and cohabitation as a division in my mind, but I it would be better to have marriage separately and family/cohabitation;

As for prohibition of pre-marital sex I think that one additional explanation could be sexually transmitted diseases. In times when contraceptives and good quality healthcare do not exist, prohibition of pre-marital sex could be a good proxy to ensure that moms are healthy and can bear healthy kids. But why restrict only females, that is the question. Actually, according to Christian religion, that prohibition is for both males and females, but somehow patriarchal cultures impose that restriction only on female’s side.

p.s. I became interested in marriage as a gene transferring institution while reading “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins. Actually, it was quite fascinating to read this book of evolutionary biologist and at the same time experience flow of economic ideas and implications behind.

Dear Eric, Thank you for your interesting comment. Questions you raise are very interesting ones, but I do not have answers. Will try to research that issue further. Indeed, the institution of civil marriage seems an evolutionary step forward. As for the terms, you are right, family and marriage are different things. I once use them as synonyms in the text, but they should be separated. I had marriage/family and cohabitation as a division in my mind, but I it would be better to have marriage separately and family/cohabitation; As for prohibition of pre-marital sex I think that one additional explanation could be sexually transmitted diseases. In times when contraceptives and good quality healthcare do not exist, prohibition of pre-marital sex could be a good proxy to ensure that moms are healthy and can bear healthy kids. But why restrict only females, that is the question. Actually, according to Christian religion, that prohibition is for both males and females, but somehow patriarchal cultures impose that restriction only on female’s side. p.s. I became interested in marriage as a gene transferring institution while reading “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins. Actually, it was quite fascinating to read this book of evolutionary biologist and at the same time experience flow of economic ideas and implications behind.
Guest - ArchilBakuradze on Thursday, 23 February 2017 09:32

Wonderful piece. Congratulations! I should admit I have just realized that what is called an individual loan in the microfinance world is in essense quite an institutional one - a loan to a family or a household. This may have all sorts of interesting implications for loan contracts.

Wonderful piece. Congratulations! I should admit I have just realized that what is called an individual loan in the microfinance world is in essense quite an institutional one - a loan to a family or a household. This may have all sorts of interesting implications for loan contracts.
Maka Chitanava on Thursday, 23 February 2017 12:52

Dear Archil,
Thank you for your comment and welcome to the world of “family economics”

Dear Archil, Thank you for your comment and welcome to the world of “family economics”
Salome Gelashvili on Thursday, 23 February 2017 12:23

Very nice piece, Maka!

In my view cohabitation and marriage are the same things. Official marriage just comes with an extra piece of paper where it is written that you are married and some additional legal procedures if you want to get out of it.

The study you mention in the beginning is very interesting, but I find the survey answers a bit strange, because I don’t really understand what responsibilities does marriage give to partners which cohabitation does not? I think one has the same responsibilities both in marriage and cohabitation.

Another answer “Marriage gives greater responsibility to partners towards children” does not make a lot of sense to me either. I think that status of the parent (married, divorced etc.) does not or should not define how responsible he/she is towards his/her child. It is all about personality. Some people care about other’s children and some do not care about their own kids.

The only meaningful answer to me is about respect in Georgia. That’s definitely true. I think this attitude creates artificial pressure on people and makes them think that marriage obliges them to do something they would never be required to do in case of cohabitation.

As to a definition of a marriage as a humanly devised constraint, in my view any relationship we engage in (being somebody’s friend, parent, sister, daughter etc.) automatically puts on us particular duties and therefore constraints. Does it mean that we should stop engaging in those types of relationships? I think No.

Very nice piece, Maka! In my view cohabitation and marriage are the same things. Official marriage just comes with an extra piece of paper where it is written that you are married and some additional legal procedures if you want to get out of it. The study you mention in the beginning is very interesting, but I find the survey answers a bit strange, because I don’t really understand what responsibilities does marriage give to partners which cohabitation does not? I think one has the same responsibilities both in marriage and cohabitation. Another answer “Marriage gives greater responsibility to partners towards children” does not make a lot of sense to me either. I think that status of the parent (married, divorced etc.) does not or should not define how responsible he/she is towards his/her child. It is all about personality. Some people care about other’s children and some do not care about their own kids. The only meaningful answer to me is about respect in Georgia. That’s definitely true. I think this attitude creates artificial pressure on people and makes them think that marriage obliges them to do something they would never be required to do in case of cohabitation. As to a definition of a marriage as a humanly devised constraint, in my view any relationship we engage in (being somebody’s friend, parent, sister, daughter etc.) automatically puts on us particular duties and therefore constraints. Does it mean that we should stop engaging in those types of relationships? I think No.
Maka Chitanava on Thursday, 23 February 2017 13:15

Dear Salome,

Thank you for providing your personal opinion. I also think that marriage and cohabitation should be the same thing. One piece of paper should not change your responsibilities and behavior, but it does. You know what an emphasis is given to that official piece of paper in our society. And this is my question, will this one piece of paper continue to make such a difference in future?

Dear Salome, Thank you for providing your personal opinion. I also think that marriage and cohabitation should be the same thing. One piece of paper should not change your responsibilities and behavior, but it does. You know what an emphasis is given to that official piece of paper in our society. And this is my question, will this one piece of paper continue to make such a difference in future?
Guest - ParamjeetBerwal on Thursday, 23 February 2017 19:36

Interesting read. Marriage as an institution has undergone various changes and the prospects dont look too bright as it is weakening in the wake of changing socio-economic scenario. When the modes of production change, the society undergoes a change. The resultant increasing the so called individual consciousness has led to people indulging in serial monogamy and marriage as an institution is about to become redundant. The trend is on the rise in the countries like the USA and Germany.

Interesting read. Marriage as an institution has undergone various changes and the prospects dont look too bright as it is weakening in the wake of changing socio-economic scenario. When the modes of production change, the society undergoes a change. The resultant increasing the so called individual consciousness has led to people indulging in serial monogamy and marriage as an institution is about to become redundant. The trend is on the rise in the countries like the USA and Germany.
Simon Appleby on Friday, 24 February 2017 10:18

Formal registration of marriages in the West is not a new construct. As an example, since the 13th century the Reading of the Banns in the parish church for three Sundays prior to a wedding was a legal and canonical requirement, to protect parties from bigamy, forced marriage or incest. The church acted as both celebrant and agent of the state in scrutinising and registering the union.

Charles Murrays study of white American society since 1963 found a schism in social norms between the upper middle class and working class regarding marriage, with marriage rates stabilising in the 1980s amongst the upper middle class and remaining stable thereafter, while blue collar America experienced plummeting marriage rates from the 1960s to today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVskhzJR6NU

One could argue at length whether there is a causal association between falling marriage rates and the rise of other social ills like the able-bodied withdrawing from the labour market, substance abuse or high crime rates.

Georgia has an interesting anomaly not seen in many Western countries; there are many couples who have married in the Church, who have not registered their marriages in the Public Registry. According to society and Church canon law they are married, but according to the law of the land they are not.

Formal registration of marriages in the West is not a new construct. As an example, since the 13th century the Reading of the Banns in the parish church for three Sundays prior to a wedding was a legal and canonical requirement, to protect parties from bigamy, forced marriage or incest. The church acted as both celebrant and agent of the state in scrutinising and registering the union. Charles Murrays study of white American society since 1963 found a schism in social norms between the upper middle class and working class regarding marriage, with marriage rates stabilising in the 1980s amongst the upper middle class and remaining stable thereafter, while blue collar America experienced plummeting marriage rates from the 1960s to today. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVskhzJR6NU One could argue at length whether there is a causal association between falling marriage rates and the rise of other social ills like the able-bodied withdrawing from the labour market, substance abuse or high crime rates. Georgia has an interesting anomaly not seen in many Western countries; there are many couples who have married in the Church, who have not registered their marriages in the Public Registry. According to society and Church canon law they are married, but according to the law of the land they are not.
Guest - MichaelElizabeth on Monday, 20 March 2017 09:58

[b]Hello friends! My Name is Michael Elizabeth from Canada I have had a lot about Dr Ajaguna on his good work, for bringing back lost relationship but I never believe because so many spell caster scam me because of my husband who left me and three kids over a year and two months. so a good friend of mine introduce me to Dr Ajaguna just because my condition was so bad and the responsibility in my matrimonial home was more than me. my husband left me to another woman just because I dont have male child for him. so I email Dr Ajaguna and told him everything, he told me not to worry that my husband will come back and I will have a male child for him. he only told me to believe on him that after casting the spell my husband will come back immediately and beg for forgiveness. he really did it for me and my husband come back to me in the next two days. I was very happy and thanks DR Ajaguna. And I then told Dr Ajaguna that I will start shearing his testimony to every one in the world if he make me to have a male child for my husband. And he also did it. As am shearing this testimony to everyone out there, that am with my new bouncy baby boy. now I believe that I am the happiest woman on earth because Dr Ajaguna restore my life in my matrimonial home you can thank him for me or email him for urgent help in any bad situation I promise you he will also help you.Email: [email protected] Website: http://ajaguna7demons-com.webs.com

[b]Hello friends! My Name is Michael Elizabeth from Canada I have had a lot about Dr Ajaguna on his good work, for bringing back lost relationship but I never believe because so many spell caster scam me because of my husband who left me and three kids over a year and two months. so a good friend of mine introduce me to Dr Ajaguna just because my condition was so bad and the responsibility in my matrimonial home was more than me. my husband left me to another woman just because I dont have male child for him. so I email Dr Ajaguna and told him everything, he told me not to worry that my husband will come back and I will have a male child for him. he only told me to believe on him that after casting the spell my husband will come back immediately and beg for forgiveness. he really did it for me and my husband come back to me in the next two days. I was very happy and thanks DR Ajaguna. And I then told Dr Ajaguna that I will start shearing his testimony to every one in the world if he make me to have a male child for my husband. And he also did it. As am shearing this testimony to everyone out there, that am with my new bouncy baby boy. now I believe that I am the happiest woman on earth because Dr Ajaguna restore my life in my matrimonial home you can thank him for me or email him for urgent help in any bad situation I promise you he will also help you.Email: [email protected] Website: http://ajaguna7demons-com.webs.com
Maka Chitanava on Monday, 20 March 2017 11:00

Dear Michael Elizabeth, we are happy for you! Thanks for sharing your personal story.

Dear Michael Elizabeth, we are happy for you! Thanks for sharing your personal story.
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