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The Undercover Economist dispenses love advice

The Undercover EconomistThis week, Tim Harford turned his eye towards various forms of love – and arrives, or nearly so, at some highly unconventional conclusions. Namely, getting married may or may not make you a happier person, but if you do decide to take the plunge, you could help make the rest of us happier by taking more than one spouse.

First, in his Undercover Economist column, Harford analyses the recent proposal by Ramzan Kadyrov, the Prime Minister of Chechnya, to offset the drastic losses of marriageable men in his country’s civil war by legalizing polygyny. Harford justifies his counterintuitive argument FOR polygamy with logic that is blindingly obvious and larded with his familiar self-deprecation:

In a society with equal numbers of men and women, each man with four wives gives women the additional pick of three men – the poor saps whose potential wives decided they’d prefer one quarter of a billionaire instead. In the Sahel region of Africa, half of all women live in polygynous households. The other half have a good choice of men and a lot more bargaining power… If polygyny combined with women’s rights, I bet we’d see more promises to wash the dishes. Not everybody would have to share a husband, but I can think of some who might prefer half of Orlando Bloom to all of Tim Harford – including my wife.

Harford then makes a surprising analogy to American society:

A little over one in 100 American men are in prison – but there are several states where one in five young black men are behind bars. Since most women marry men of similar age, and of the same race and the same state, there are some groups of women who face a dramatic shortfall of marriage partners.

Finally, in a piece for Forbes.com, Harford looks at recent studies on links between education, wealth, relationships and happiness and finds that there still isn’t a clear answer, especially when it comes to marriage:

Married people are much happier than single people. So perhaps you should get married? (Even better if your fiancĂ©e’s sister’s husband is unemployed.) Not so fast. More sophisticated surveys show that the causation runs both ways: Happy people tend to find spouses, while those suffering from depression don’t find it so easy. And–not surprisingly–some people do brilliantly out of marriage, and others are utterly miserable. As an economist, I’m afraid I have no idea whether you should propose to that cute girl you’ve been seeing.

But, if you’re sitting on the fence and feel time slipping by, don’t despair. Harford also quotes Andrew Oswald, an economist at Warwick University in England and someone keenly interested in studying human happiness, “There’s a kind of J-curve describing happiness over time. Your late 30s are the most unhappy period of your life, but then the older you get the happier you are. Life really does begin again at 40.”

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