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Are There Increasing Returns to Scale in Marriage Markets?

  • Maristella Botticini
  • Aloysius Siow

The goal of an individual searching for a marriage partner is typically to form a long-term relationship. Marital search is a complicated and costly activity, where opportunities typically arrive over time at uncertain intervals, each party has to evaluate each other's characteristics, and expectations play an important role. Given these features of marital search, a seminal paper by Mortensen (1988) has shown that the matching framework can be suited for the analysis of marriage markets and also raised the possibility of a thick market externality in these markets. We contribute to this literature by empirically investigating whether marriage markets are characterized by increasing, constant, or decreasing returns to scale. We focus on three societies—late medieval and early Renaissance Tuscany, China in the 1980s, and the United States in 2000—which are different in terms of population size, economic structure, sex ratios, marriage transfers, and the social norms governing marriage markets. Our main finding is that in all three societies, there is no evidence of increasing returns to scale in marriage markets, whereas the hypothesis of constant returns to scale cannot be rejected. The remarkably similar and precise estimates suggest that the number of eligibles (and potential contacts) in a marriage market is less important than economic factors, such as wealth levels and income dispersion, in affecting the marriage rate across different societies. The key message is that where individuals live, in large cities or small towns, have a minimal effect on their marriage rates.

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Paper provided by IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University in its series Working Papers with number 395.

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Date of creation: 2011
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Handle: RePEc:igi:igierp:395
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  1. Burdett, Kenneth & Coles, Melvyn G, 1999. "Long-Term Partnership Formation: Marriage and Employment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 109(456), pages F307-34, June.
  2. Katz, Lawrence & Goldin, Claudia, 2002. "The Power of the Pill: Oral Contraceptives and Women's Career and Marriage Decisions," Scholarly Articles 2624453, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  3. Botticini, Maristella, 1999. "A Loveless Economy? Intergenerational Altruism and the Marriage Market in a Tuscan Town, 1415–1436," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 59(01), pages 104-121, March.
  4. Burdett, Ken & Coles, Melvyn G, 1997. "Marriage and Class," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(1), pages 141-68, February.
  5. Stevenson, Betsey & Wolfers, Justin, 2007. "Marriage and Divorce: Changes and their Driving Forces," CEPR Discussion Papers 6144, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. Janice Compton & Robert A. Pollak, 2007. "Why Are Power Couples Increasingly Concentrated in Large Metropolitan Areas?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 25, pages 475-512.
  7. Emily Oster & Gang Chen, 2008. "Hepatitis B Does Not Explain Male-Biased Sex Ratios in China," NBER Working Papers 13971, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Ming-Jen Lin & Ming-Ching Luoh, 2008. "Can Hepatitis B Mothers Account for the Number of Missing Women? Evidence from Three Million Newborns in Taiwan," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 2259-73, December.
  9. Gautier, Pieter A & Svarer, Michael & Teulings, Coen N, 2005. "Marriage and the City," CEPR Discussion Papers 4939, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  10. Josh Angrist, 2002. "How Do Sex Ratios Affect Marriage And Labor Markets? Evidence From America'S Second Generation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(3), pages 997-1038, August.
  11. Maristella Botticini & Aloysius Siow, 2003. "Why Dowries?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(4), pages 1385-1398, September.
  12. Robert Shimer & Lones Smith, 2000. "Assortative Matching and Search," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 68(2), pages 343-370, March.
  13. Nancy Qian, 2008. "Missing Women and the Price of Tea in China: The Effect of Sex-Specific Earnings on Sex Imbalance," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 123(3), pages 1251-1285, August.
  14. Lena Edlund, 2005. "Sex and the City," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 107(1), pages 25-44, 03.
  15. Dora L. Costa & Matthew E. Kahn, 2000. "Power Couples: Changes In The Locational Choice Of The College Educated, 1940-1990," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 115(4), pages 1287-1315, November.
  16. Gould, Eric D & Paserman, M. Daniele, 2002. "Waiting for Mr Right: Rising Inequality and Declining Marriage Rates," CEPR Discussion Papers 3388, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  17. Eugene Choo & Aloysius Siow, 2006. "Who Marries Whom and Why," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 114(1), pages 175-201, February.
  18. Lones Smith, 2006. "The Marriage Model with Search Frictions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 114(6), pages 1124-1146, December.
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