Monday, February 17, 2014

How the Pill Changed the Marriage Market

Paul Adams

The pill, we have argued, changed everything.  It was the technological basis, the shock, that enabled the sexual revolution, with its profoundly negative effects on children and on women, especially those of lower income.  The sexual revolution, and hence the pill, is at the heart of just about every social issue social workers and those concerned with poverty and injustice address in our society. Thus my post on marriage as a social justice issue begins thus:
Depending on how you understand the concept of social justice, you can see marriage from several angles as a social justice issue, indeed as central to the possibility of a just society.  Historically (and universally) our most child-centered institution, marriage and the marriage-based family reduce the risk of poverty, crime, mental and physical illness, poor educational outcomes, domestic or intimate partner violence, and so on.  The marriage gap between the more educated and affluent on one hand and the poor and middle class, both Black and white, on the other is widening and that is increasing inequality (DeParle, 2012Hymowitz, 2006Murray, 2012).  Amato (2005) shows the profound impact on children of changes in family structure since 1970 when the sexual revolution took off. It included the explosion of divorce, increase in non-marital births, cohabitation, and fatherless and blended families.  The revolution’s defining feature was the destigmatization and increased incidence of almost all kinds of sex inside and especially outside of marriage.
In her pathbreaking book, Mary Eberstadt spells out in detail how the pill fundamentally changed the balance of power in the relations between men and women.  Nobel-prizewinning economist George Akerlof and Janet Yellen, his wife and recently appointed chair of the Federal Reserve, pointed out that it was not the lack of marriageable black males or the perverse incentives of  welfare policy that had produced these dramatic social changes - the effects of these and other common explanations were relatively minor - but the technological shock itself:
Around 1970, the United States experienced a reproductive technology shock. The legalization of abortion and dramatic increase in the availability of contraception gave women the tools to control the number and timing of their children. Over the ensuing 25 years, however, there have been huge increases in the number of single-parent families headed by unmarried mothers. The usual economic explanations welfare benefits and the declining availability of good jobs explain only a small fraction of the change. In our view, it was the technology shock itself that, by eroding the age-old custom of shotgun marriage, paradoxically raised out-of-wedlock birth rates instead of lowering them.
The "price" men had to pay for sex, in terms of women's demanding marriage or the promise of marriage (more or less enforced by the woman's family and the culture), fell through the floor as sex became delinked from the risk of pregnancy.  The pill became widely available in the 1960s and legal abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy soon followed in the 1970s.  Here is a new nine-minute "research animate" that explains the revolutionary changes in the economics of mating and the marriage market, and how they have worked to women's disadvantage, from the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture.

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