Guttentag and Secord Would Approve of This

Slate has two excerpts from Tim Harford's new book, The Logic of Life. Here's a meta-excerpt.

It takes two to tango, and it also takes two to get married. Marriage therefore requires you to go out and find someone you want to marry, and persuade them to marry you.
Whom you marry depends on where you live, but also on how old you are and what race you are. Most people marry people of the same race, of a similar age and from the same area. 96 percent of married black women have black husbands, and over 96 percent of married white women have white husbands.

What might cause an imbalance in some of these local marriage markets? Imbalances in cities might be caused by unskilled young men rationally deciding to give up and move to the country, or stay there in the first place. But another major reason for men being absent from local marriage markets is prison. There are two million men in US prisons and just 100,000 women; and the men in prison are spread unevenly across age, race and geography. Huge numbers of young black men are in prison, and that is bound to pose a problem for the young black women they might otherwise have married.
According to economists Kerwin Kofi Charles and Ming Ching Luoh, where a large number of a particular racial group is in prison, women of the same age and race in that state do not enjoy the gains from marriage, or a stable relationship, that women in a more equitable situation do.
They estimate, for instance, that a one percentage point rise in the proportion of young black men in prison reduces the proportion of young black women who have ever been married by three percentage points. In states where 20 or 25 percent of the available men are in prison, young black women become very unlikely to marry. The effect is even more dramatic for uneducated women, since women tend to pair up with men of a similar education level, and uneducated men are particularly likely to end up in jail.

There are a lot of African-American single moms around, and some commentators are inclined to blame this fact on "black culture"—whatever that phrase might mean. But "black culture" doesn't explain why the single moms are disproportionately in the states where lots of young black men are in prison. Economics does: women's bargaining power is badly dented by the imprisonment of potential husbands. The better-educated guys stay out of jail, and they are smart enough to realize that with the competition locked up, they don't have to get married to enjoy themselves. "Culture" is no explanation; that women respond rationally to a tough situation is a much better one.
Sounds like a good book to me.

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