Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Economics of the Baby-Daddy

In the Undercover Economist this week, Slate has two excerpts from Tim Harford's new book The Logic of Life. Yesterday's excerpt, "The Economics of Marriage", focuses on how rational choices in an environment of stiff competition explains the behavior of young black men and women in areas where a high percentage of black men are in prison.

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....

The more capable women become of looking after children by themselves, the less men need to bother. It's a textbook case of free-riding: with highly-educated women in excess supply, men have realized that they can get sex, and even successful offspring, without ever moving too far from the La-Z-Boy chair and the potato chips.

In classic descriptive-not-prescriptive style, the article begs the question, "well, okay, so what now?" Maybe I have to buy the book.

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