Economics & Valentine’s Day

By Cindy Ivanac-Lillig

One of this blog’s objectives is to bring the most un-economic subjects into the realm of economics. My hope is that this will entice folks to further study the “dismal” science. Today, Valentine’s Day is my target!

The economic implications of who we date and marry seem pretty obvious on a micro level. If you fall in love with someone that earns a lot of money, it is clear that your joint economic situation will probably be comfortable and vice-versa. By the way, I am in no way advocating one situation over the other.

However, it also seems that there are macro-economic implications to these decisions as well. Joanne Weiner writes in a recent Washington Post blog:

“Marriage is one of the unexpected causes of the growing income gap. Research from a team of international economists led by Jeremy Greenwood at the University of Pennsylvania found that a common measure of income inequality (known as the Gini index) is about 30 percent higher than it would otherwise be if better-educated people randomly married other people instead of marrying people with similar levels of education.

What this means is that income inequality has grown worse over time partly because highly-educated people are marrying other highly-educated people…”

This phenomenon is probably just a symptom of wealth concentration and not a cause, but either way, it is fun to think about what it may mean in terms of policy rationale. For example, there are many worthwhile initiatives aimed at having a greater proportion of low income students attend and graduate college. The scientific, well-documented argument is that this will enhance their skill set which will in turn improve their life-long earning potential. This is true, but how about if another reason is simply that they would be sitting in class on Valentine’s Day and may find their future partner there. This partner will likely make more money than someone they may have met in their community given that this future mate is on his/her way to graduating college. And again, money isn’t everything, but household income is still one of the most reliable variables to measure standard of living and overall economic well-being.

Economic textbooks would be so much more interesting if they taught about a Dating Possibilities Frontier as opposed to the Production Possibilities Frontier!

Wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day and a right shift of your Dating Possibilities Frontier (sorry to my married readers – you have already maximized your utils)! Check out #Fedvalentines on Twitter. They have been quite entertaining in the past.