May 3rd 2003


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Why Crean's departure won't rescue Labor

EDITORIAL: Slash and burn for Australian textile industry

AGRICULTURE: Murray Darling farmers could lose 30% of water allocations

Will Alston repeat Keating's mistakes on media ownership?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The thieves of Baghdad ... and Melbourne / Veritas / Shadow of Khomeini

COMMENT: Allowing nature to take its course is not euthanasia

HEALTH: How 'safe sex' misinformation puts young lives at risk

LETTERS: Nationals policy wrong (letter)

FAMILY: Men and marriage: rising inequality linked to falling fertility

DOCUMENTATION: Ethanol benefits become important public health issue

BIOETHICS: Do No Harm's major role in stem cell debate

Queensland National Party moves to stop sugar deregulation

BOOKS: Power Politics, edited by John Spoehr

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FAMILY:
Men and marriage: rising inequality linked to falling fertility


by Michael Casanova

News Weekly, May 3, 2003
How well are families in Australia doing? Are governments taking their role in setting the conditions for marriages and families to flourish?

In the latest issue of the Journal of Urban Economics there appears an article with the title: "Waiting for Mr Right: rising inequality and declining marriage rates" (Volume 53, Issue 2, Pages 257-281, March 2003, originally published in July 2002). The paper is authored by Eric D. Gould and M. Daniele Paserman, economic researchers in the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. It establishes a link between increasing wage inequality among men and the increasing phenomenon of women taking longer to marry or not marrying at all.

Consequences

With a sample size of over 300,000 women between the ages of 21 and 30 in 321 American metropolitan areas in three census years (1970, 1980, 1990), the research has found "a new consequence of the growing disparity in the wage distribution - declining marriage rates."

It was found that increasing wage inequality explains some 25 to 30 per cent of the marriage rate decline in America over the past few decades. "Overall the evidence is supportive of the idea that higher male inequality increases the option value for women to search longer for a husband."

This research was brought to local attention by Radio National's Life Matters, on Monday, February 24, 2003 (http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/lm/stories/s789709.htm). Among the Australian statistics raised in the program were that "fewer Australians got married in 2001 than did twenty years before. This despite the fact that our population then was 15 million. Today it's closer to twenty million. And those of us who do choose to marry are doing it later.

As recently as 1980 the typical Australian woman walking down the aisle was aged 22. Today she is aged 27."

Peter Martin, the program's guest, gave a simple analogy to illustrate the phenomenon of women searching longer for a husband. If refrigerators in a particular town all shared closely the same price, features and reliability, then any time people in that town had the money and desire to buy a refrigerator, there would be no delay. But if there were great differences in features, reliability and price, then a certain percentage of potential buyers would delay their purchase, some for a moment, some forever.

While the fridge analogy no doubt has no solid research behind it, Waiting for Mr Right: rising inequality and declining in marriage rate is regarded as solid research, with controls for factors such as greater educational and career opportunities for women.

Waiting for Mr Right is an interesting accompaniment to the Australian Family Association-funded research being undertaken by Monash University's Dr Bob Birrell into the correlation between low income for Australian males in their prime marrying years with their low marriage and high divorce rates, relative to the rates for better paid Australian men.

Poor prospects

In previous work by Dr Birrell and Virginia Rapson of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University, it was found that almost one-third of 25-44 year old men were not in full-time work and earning well below the average wage, with dramatic effects on their marriage rates, divorce rates and accompanying rise in female single parent families (News Weekly, "Families: The hollowing of the middle class continues", July 15, 2000).

Falling fertility and marriage rates promise increasing demographic (ageing population) and social problems (from fractured families).

Commitment to the common good of Australia as a whole, of families, and of individuals will move people at the grass roots level, will move state and federal governments, to search seriously for solutions, now.

Governments cannot command citizens to marry and multiply, but they still have an indispensable contribution to set up the conditions for marriages and families to flourish. And since families are essential to Australia's wellbeing, socially, demographically and economically, governments will see the necessity of their conditional causality role in opening the economic window for more individuals who wish to give themselves to spouse and children, to follow their dreams and secure Australia's future.

  • Michael Casanova




























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