“The Bachelor” Reinforces My Faith in the Institution of Marriage
Don’t lie and tell me you didn’t know that last night, Jason — this season’s bachelor on the ABC show of the same name — asked one woman to marry him and basically changed his mind a few weeks later and dumped Melissa to try again with Molly. Admit it, you watched it last night, just like I did. Sadly, I watched it just as I usually do, as we have long been fans of the show. At first, the show rather appalled me, then I was helplessly drawn in, and now the show serves as positive reinforcement for the value of my own marriage and the marriages of others.
But the key thing is that it’s not the show itself that does this; rather, more exactly, it’s the show’s failure rate. There have been 17 seasons of either “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette,” and exactly one of them has led to a happy marriage, with one other that will likely result in a marriage at some point in the future. Think how depressing it would be if a situation where one man or woman meeting 24 members of the opposite sex and only given two months or so to get to know them had produced a dozen happy marriages. All ideas of romantic love and finding that special person who is just right for you would pretty much be replaced by the idea that you could have been plenty happy with a lot of other people — you just needed to whittle your final list down to 24 people or so, and to get rid of half of them within an hour.
So, David, what the hell does this have to do with economics or markets? Well, a lot, actually. There is a large body of knowledge about the economics of marriage and divorce, and some of it is well covered here and here in Slate. Of course, marriage is a much more rational institution than often viewed by romantics — whose mindset was beautifully destroyed by The Onion, not surprisingly. But, if it is ludicrous to believe that one bachelor would quickly find his soul mate among 24 women selected for him by TV producers (and it is), it is just as reasonable to assume that a large number of people will find their marriage partners out of the other members of their freshman class in college.
One stat you hear a lot, but that most people know is inaccurate, is that half of all marriages end in divorce. The divorce rate was quite high for a short period a few decades ago, but it’s lower now, and I really don’t care what the overall rate is as long as my own rate is zero. It just takes some very basic questions and math though, to get the odds of divorce down to around 10 percent. If you take a man and a woman (this isn’t New England, so, for better or worse, that is our only option) who love each other, and you can determine that they have similar education backgrounds, are a roughly similar age, didn’t get married out of pressure (pregnancy, etc.), didn’t get married too early in life (excluding some circumstances like military deployment), dated and were engaged for a normal period (eliminating Vegas quickie marriages), and are each getting married for the first time, then you can book them for about a 90-percent chance of a successful, permanent marriage. I don’t think you can add any variables in that will push it much past about 90 percent, because major life changes will occur for some (bankruptcy, loss of a child, etc.) that can make even the strongest marriages crumble.
On the opposite side, it doesn’t matter how much the 25-year-old cocktail waitress and the 60-year-old Ivy League financier might love each other when they say “I do” — the marriage almost certainly ain’t lasting.
Just for fun, here is the divorce calculator prepared by a “Freakonomics” contributor.