Thursday, September 8, 2016

Parental Matchmaking

Via Marginal Revolutions, here is a study that compared Chinese marriages arranged by the parents with those arranged by the husband and wife:
While parental matchmaking has been widespread throughout history and across countries, we know little about the relationship between parental matchmaking and marriage outcomes. Does parental involvement in matchmaking help ensure their needs are better taken care of by married children? This paper finds supportive evidence using a survey of Chinese couples. In particular, parental involvement in matchmaking is associated with having a more submissive wife, a greater number of children, a higher likelihood of having any male children, and a stronger belief of the husband in providing old age support to his parents. These benefits, however, are achieved at the cost of less marital harmony within the couple and lower market income of the wife. The results render support to and extend the findings of Becker, Murphy and Spenkuch (2015) where parents meddle with children’s preferences to ensure their commitment to providing parental goods such as old age support.
Much of this is just going to be the difference between the kind of people who let their parents make their match and the ones who insist on doing it themselves. But I was struck by the finding that people in parentally-arranged marriages are less happily married but more likely to take care of their aging parents. You can generally count on people to look after their own interests.

The paper is paywalled and the abstract doesn't say how big these effects are. I would bet they aren't very big, since all the other data I have seen on arranged vs. self-made marriages finds only small differences in satisfaction.

1 comment:

David said...

"You can generally count on people to look after their own interests." I wonder. To start, it's not clear to me who you think is looking out for their own interest here. I think you mean the parents--ensuring that they're taken care of in their old age--and not the kids--who are seemingly more likely to be stuck in unhappy marriages while taking care of their parents, which seems to serve others' interest and not their own. In that case, the whole strategy of the parents suiting their own interest depends on someone else--their children--not acting in their own interest. That is, unless you want to say salving guilt, or preferring to conform to social expectation (that good people take care of their parents, for example) rather than buck it, or some such, are forms of self-interest--in which case the concept of self-interest becomes so broad as to be meaningless. If the category self-interest is to be meaningful, it seems to me it has to refer to a fairly uncomplicated, non-self-hating kind of self-benefit. And in that case, I simply don't see that you can depend analytically on the idea that most people look out for their self-interest.