Marital Economics

Recently, there has been discussion that marriage is an institution that benefits the rich but doesn’t benefit the poor, or various other discussions about inequality of marriage. In a sense, this is another attack on value of the institution of marriage like many others we have seen over the years. As Christians we see marriage as an institution created by God and man’s attempts to change or deviate from that institution are not relevant. All other sexual relationships outside of the bonds of a heterosexual marriage are morally invalid. As a society, we can create conditions that can economically dis-incentivize marriage, but that does not change the necessity of the institution for a stable society.

The current argument being raised is that fewer poor members of our society are marrying, then somehow marriage is an institution that is only attractive or beneficial to the wealthy.

But I want to raise a different possibility.

The most important work on individual wealth written in the twentieth century was Thomas J Stanley’s book The Millionaire Next Door. Stanley’s book (and its follow up The Millionaire Mind) was based on a series of interviews with millionaires, and his results were startling.

Here is an argument based on his findings:

1. 80% of millionaires are “first generation rich” that, is they made their fortunes themselves, and were not born wealth.

2. Of these 80% that were first generation rich, most of them were born into poor families.

3. From this, he established as a thesis that the habits of the rich were among the reasons for their wealth. Among these, 2/3rds of millionaires had their own businesses (as opposed to 20% of the general population) most of them made extensive investments – both into their businesses and in other investments, on average investing 20% of their income.

4. Economically, millionaires tend to have both a strong offense and a strong defense (ie they are extremely careful in their spending habits).

5. One of those habits is that the wealthy married before they became wealthy and stayed married. Stanley believed that these millionaire’s marriages were part of the reason why they had become wealthy because most of their wives had similar habits.

That being said, perhaps the problem isn’t that marriage is an institution that only benefits the wealthy – perhaps the changing views of our society are contributing to growing poverty. Marriage and the family has long been understood as a stabilizing force, and this stability includes economic security. Perhaps, this would all suggest that God’s ways still work.

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