Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sunday dollars+sense: Why sex means the city

...for women.

When I wrote about Valentines Day last week I neglected to mention the role of money.

Believe it or not, money is important for women on the lookout for men and, believe it or not, the distribution of money seems to help explain why these days women are marrying later.

Economist Lena Edlund of Columbia University outlined the thesis a few years back in a study provocatively entitled Sex and the City.

She argued that it was no coincidence that throughout the Western world there is a shortage of nubile women in the country, and yet a glut (they outnumber men of the same age) in the cities...

It could be that women are rushing to the cities in order to find better jobs.

While Professor Edlund can’t entirely discount that possibility she notes that the jobs that women end up getting in the cities are less well paid than the men’s.

She thinks the women are after something else. Using regional data from Sweden she has found that they tend not to move to those regions that have the highest female incomes, but those that have the highest male ones.

And she finds that the effect is the most pronounced the more fertile the female age-group.

How can that help explain why women are marrying later?

There are other reasons of course; among them the contraceptive pill and a growing realisation amongst women that the heath and other benefits from marriage aren’t as strong for them as for men.

But a growing inequality in male incomes is also important.

As Hebrew University economists Eric Gould and Daniele Paserman put it in their recent study entitled Waiting for Mr Right, there has been “an increase in the dispersion of husband quality” - there is a greater potential pay-off than there used to be in waiting for a real high-earner.

They used census data to rank 300 US cities. The most unequal city in male incomes was Stamford, Connecticut. It also happened to be the one with the highest proportion of women in their upper 20s who were not yet married.

They found that female “waiting” or singleness closely followed male wage inequality, both between different cities and over time.

After running the stats they concluded that “increased inequality may account for up to 30 per cent of the overall decline in female marriage rates in the last few decades.”

Which makes me feel pretty good. Money comes into it for women, but about two-thirds of it has to do with something else.


Lena Edlund,
Sex and the City, Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Vol. 107, No. 1, pp. 25-44, March 2005

M. Daniele Paserman and Eric Gould,
Waiting for Mr. Right: Rising Inequality and Declining Marriage Rates, Journal of Urban Economics, 53(2), March 2003, pages 257-281

Peter Martin,
Love, marriage, contraception and money, Sydney Morning Herald, January 21, 2004