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Tuesday February 19, 2008 Edition
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From Where I Lie: Checkbook Romance is Alive and Well

Tuesday February 19, 2008

By Larry Johnson

    It is still prudent not to confuse the world’s oldest profession with one of the world’s oldest institutions, marriage, but, according to the Wall Street Journal, the lines between the two are becoming blurred.

     Prince and Associates, a “wealth-research firm, polled 1134 people nationwide with incomes ranging between $30,000 to $60,000.” According to the results of the survey, two thirds of the respondents said they were more than willing to marry a normal looking, likeable person for money.

     Due to personal cowardice, I won’t attempt to explain why women are more disposed to marry for money than men but the results definitely showed this to be the case. For instance, three-quarters of women and nearly half of the men said they were ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ willing to marry for money.   

     So what does this all mean? Well, from my cynical perspective, it means that nothing has changed since the beginning of time. Who was it that said, “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?” That’s too harsh an assessment, of course, but I do believe that marriage has been given too much positive press without the critical assessment that should go with the accolades.

     Up until the Middle Ages, marriage was predominantly a business, especially among the upper classes. People married not for romantic notions but to improve their lot in life. Nobility played the marriage game for fun and profit, and rich families sold their daughters off to other rich families for the same reasons that today’s corporations merge with other corporations. Business mergers can produce greater wealth and reduce competition.

     Pamela Smock, a sociologist at the university of Michigan, said she was “shocked” by the results of the poll, but that she was aware, from her own informal studies, that people  often “tied the knot” for mercenary reasons. No kidding, Pamela.

     Anyone who has ever had to stand in line at a grocery store check-out, and has read the lurid headlines of the tabloids while they wait, knows that Britney and Jen and Heather Mills (Paul McCartney’s ex wife) are the currency of the modern American nobility. Their affairs, their pregnancies, and their serial, and often concurrent relationships, factor into the dollar value of the inevitable divorce.

     Of course, you say, the Glitterati are not representative of the common man and woman. Oh, really? If they weren’t held in high esteem and their activities not emulated to the extent that is possible, they wouldn’t be the constant topic of discussion on all the silly talk shows. Also, like the gold standard of old, they set the high-end value of a marriage. This, of course, is scaled down for the “average” marriage which has a 50%-plus chance of disintegrating within seven or eight years.

     Interestingly enough, the 21st century “marry for money” concept is not only very popular among the rich and famous, but is also a popular pursuit for the less affluent “Wannabees.”  Prince and Associates discovered that even the “common” marriage has a price tag. The average price, it would seem, is $1.5 million. “Women in their 20s said $2.5 million is how much a potential spouse would need to have to be money-marriage material.” As women progressed into their 30s the price apparently decreased to $1.1 million, but made a resurgence during the woman’s 40s to $2.2 million. Apparently “worth” is age-related in some peculiar way that was not explained. For men, marriage prices went from $1 million in their 20s to $1.4 million in their 40s. Well, everyone knows that boys mature more slowly than girls.

      So what should we think about marriage? Is it finished? Was it ever a viable institution to begin with?  Some pundit once remarked that democracy was a lousy form of government but was infinitely better than all the rest. Perhaps the same can be said of marriage. It’s a highly flawed institution for raising children but it is far better than anything else we’ve been able to devise.

     Not all marriages are based on monetary expectations, however. Some are mergers of convenience, shared interests, companionship and for raising children. Other reasons, I would suspect, are more subjective and less romantic. For instance, we all know couples who seem to enjoy engaging in verbal combat and internecine warfare, and continue the bickering practice throughout their protracted relationships.

      For whatever reason people get hitched, whether it’s for money or something else, the institution is here to stay. As a society, we may agonize over its ostensible lack of stability and we may feel indignation over some of its gender-related changes, but I predict that it will be around as long as there are two people left who share some mutual attraction, whether it’s love, money or something less obvious.   


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