Why Marriage is So Powerful Economically


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When most people think about marriage, they think about love and companionship. In the past they would have thought about sex, but many people have sex with several people before they even think about marriage to anyone these days. What is odd is that while same-sex couples who have never had the opportunity to get married are now enjoying their new ability to do so thanks to a decision made by Gavin Newsome as Mayor of San Francisco to hand out marriage licenses and a decision by the Supreme Court that such marriages must be recognized everywhere, heterosexual couples are getting married less and staying married rarely. Perhaps many see marriage as something that is unnecessary anymore or simply outdated. But marriage is a very powerful method to prosper economically if used correctly as it rarely is today. In this post we’ll explain the economic power of marriage and how, done correctly, can lead to achievements far beyond what you can achieve otherwise.

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Marriage is about “oneness”

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Marriage is a religious concept. From Mark 10:8:

“… and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”

Mark 10:8

This simple seeming concept is actually very powerful, economically and otherwise. To become “married” is to become “one.” One flesh, one entity. You are not two people living together and sharing a bed, and it isn’t about the sexual act where you’re joined together. It is as if you’re one body all of the time and acting accordingly.

Think about your body and how the parts act. Your heart pumps blood to provide oxygen and remove waste products from your cells. Your brain provides direction and regulates everything while also helping you make wise decisions such as to avoid tigers and find food. Your legs help you get where you need to go to get needed items. Your arms help you make and use tools to gather food and make shelter. Each part does things within its capabilities to do things for the body. Without most of the parts, all of the other parts would die. Some of the parts can be lost like an arm or a lung, but the body as a whole does not work as well without them.

Now put two people together. Both people can continue to act separately, both working jobs, both helping raise the kids, both going to the supermarket, both cooking meals and cleaning up for themselves, but it doesn’t work as well as when one person takes on certain roles and the other takes on other roles. Someone who can work the hours needed and have flexibility to stay late or travel is a much more valuable employee than one who needs to leave at 3:00 sharp everyday to pick up the kids from school or run home to meet a repair man or stay home to fix the car. It is more efficient for one person to buy all of the food needed at the store and the family can have much better meals if someone has the time to cook rather than need to finish work and try to cook at 6 PM when everyone is hungry. Children benefit from personal, one-on-one attention from a parent who loves them rather than being warehoused in child care with twenty other kids and a handful of adults who are just working a job.

So, by forming a marriage where both individuals merge and become one and focus their attention on doing things for the family instead of themselves, each person in the couple can specialize on the tasks he or she is best at, enabling his or her spouse to focus on the tasks at which they are best. The person working at a job can focus on career, being there and providing what the company needs and in doing so working his/her way up into higher levels of responsibility and higher pay. The person working at home can focus on the primary role of raising the children, but will also have time to do things like cook meals, sew and make clothing, fix cars and maintain the house, and meet repairmen, bankers, lawyers, teachers, and all of the other people typically only available during the day.

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Marriage provides the safety needed to sacrifice

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Marriage is primarily a religious covenant: Two people swear before God to come together as one, love and support each other, and stay together for life. One example of the traditional wedding vows is as follows:

“I, (name), take you, (name), to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy law. In the presence of God I make this vow.”

Wed Magazine

Each person pledges to support the other through all things until death. This pledge is made freely before God, and therefore the participants have God to answer to if they break their vow. God doesn’t tell anyone they must marry, but if one chooses to do so and make the pledge before God, he or she is expected to then stand by their pledge. In exchange, God blesses the union.

At one time, the state had nothing to do with marriage – it was between the couple and God, or whomever or whatever they held as an authority over them. Along the way the state got involved and started licensing marriages, primarily to test the couple’s blood and verify that they were not in danger of having issues with childbearing because of blood type incompatibility. It is not necessary to get the state’s approval or a license to be married (although many ministers will not marry a couple without a license today). In fact, if a couple cohabitates and acts as a married couple for a sufficient period of time, many places will recognize the union as a common law marriage.

After the state got involved, the state also started to offer protections of their own to those in the marriage, granting certain privileges such as confidentiality among spouses in criminal trials (since the two are one entity, to testify against your spouse would be tantamount to testifying against yourself), visitation rights in hospitals, and automatic transfer of property in the event of a spouse’s death without inheritance taxes. The state also started offering protection of each spouse in the event of a divorce where a judge could require one spouse pay alimony or child support to the other and having a judge decide how property is to be split up based upon contributions from each spouse and wrongdoing by one spouse or another. Where one spouse desired a divorce and the other didn’t, the judge could even require for the couple to remain married unless the spouse desiring the divorce could show compelling reasons why a divorce was needed. (Religions also generally forbids divorce without sufficient justification and sometimes even with it.)

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The reasons for these protections is so that each spouse can sacrifice and put the marriage first without fear of the partner breaking his/her vow and leaving him/her destitute. Imagine that you and your friend went for a long hike into the desert and you agreed to bring the food if she agreed to bring the water. Let’s then say that 30 miles out, after sitting down and having a big meal, your friend decided that she wanted to leave and take all of the water with her. You agreed to carry all of the food with the expectation that you would be able to get the water you needed from her. If you were unable to trust the friend, you wouldn’t have been able to make such an arrangement and would have had to carry everything yourself, just in case she flaked out on you.

Imagine now one spouse stays home and raises the children, letting her education and talents waste away for fifteen years while her spouse completes higher degrees and rises up through the company. If the working spouse then decided he wanted to leave and there were no protections, the wife could be left without the ability to earn enough to sustain herself. It gets even worse if the husband decided to leave her with the kids to raise. By having a strong covenant, first with God, and secondly with the state, the wife is protected and able to make those sacrifices. This allows her husband to get farther in his career and provides a better home life for them both and their children than could be had if both were working. The first protection is choosing the right guy to marry, one who is trustworthy and holds his commitments. The second is the protection from God. The third is the protections offered by the state.

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The financial benefits of becoming one

I’ve already alluded to one of the primary benefits of a married couple becoming one – it allows one person to focus on career without just getting by on the household and ignoring the children. People don’t become CEO of a large company, become President of the United States, become a well-respected scientific authority, land on the moon, or become a hall of fame sports figure putting in 32 hours per week and staying home with sick children. They also don’t take ten years off from their career to get children through toddlerhood and into kindergarten. Basically all of the difference between men and women’s salaries can be explained by women being the primary individuals who take time from work to care for children and aging parents while men tend to stay in the workplace, work more than 40 hour weeks, and do things like travel and work weekends to advance their careers. An individual on their own cannot put the time and effort into their career needed to advance to the higher ranks without his/her home life being a train wreck without someone there to support him/her. Having that support person allows for the couple to push the primary breadwinner to higher status and salary, benefitting the family. Often one person with support can earn more than two people both working jobs, especially when both the expenses of working and extra costs from two people working are included.

Likewise, people who are working full-time lose the benefit of being able to do things for themselves rather than buying/hiring out. Great meals at home can easily be made for half the price of highly processed fast food meals eaten out. Doing tasks yourself like laundry, car repairs, shopping, home repairs and renovations, pet care, and most of all, childcare (which can easily cost $1500 to $2000 per month), also save you a great deal of money and are generally worth far more per hour than a person can make at a lower-level job. A recent estimate by salary for the value of a stay-at-home mom is $162,581 per year. This is far more than most people make through a job. A stay-at-home dad (or a stay-at-home life partner) would provide a similar benefit. Note that most families with two working spouses don’t make up for the income loss, they just live lesser lives and don’t necessarily realize it until later in life when they look back.

If additional paper income is needed, there are some easy ways the person not in a 9-5 job can contribute. With someone at home watching their children, providing childcare to others’ children becomes an easy option for supplementary income. A side benefit is that the additional children can be playmates and help keep children occupied. It is also easy to make up some extra jam or bread for a craft fair while making some for one’s own family, fix a neighbor’s car or help them with a task, or even run some errands for others while out doing one’s own errands. There are a variety of other at-home businesses like network marketing, tutoring and music lessons, personal shopper, and even realty. Keep in mind, however, that side jobs can become primary jobs that take the time away that you were saving if you take on too much and you’ll lose the benefits you were seeking by not taking a salaried job. Keep an eye on what is important and do all things in moderation.

Doing things for yourself comes with another financial benefit: savings on taxes. If you buy a meal from a restaurant, a jar of jam or loaf of bread from a store, or a dress from a seamstress, you’re paying taxes on that purchase, including sales tax for the sale, property tax for the business location, and corporate tax for the business. You’re also paying for part of the salary and benefits of the person you’re buying the item from (and collectively everyone in the business). You’re also paying for these things with after-tax money since you have paid income taxes and payroll taxes on the money you earned. If you are earning extra to pay for things, you’re also paying higher tax rates, losing out on deductions, and losing benefits you could have gotten if you had earned less. When you do things for yourself, there is no tax on your labor and tax rates from the money you do earn will be less.

Beyond finances, there is much you simply can’t have when working two jobs that you can with a professional home-making spouse. As previously mentioned, the effect on children can be priceless. It also opens up the possibility of homeschooling and providing a one-on-one, self-paced education for your children that you fully control. Food is certainly better when home-cooked with skill. Fresh bread, home preserves, home-grown vegetables, and well maintained equipment, cars, and tools are also benefits. Just having a well groomed yard and well cleaned home are benefits that are quickly lost when everyone is busy working and losing a couple of hours per day commuting.

Choosing roles

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Traditionally the man would work the job outside of the home (or work the fields and do the hunting if providing for themselves directly) and the wife would raise the children and maintain the home. Of course, the children would also be expected to contribute to the home once they became old enough to help out. This largely made sense at the time since most jobs required extensive physical labor and/or involved going in to physically hazardous situations with danger of assault. Jobs were things like digging ditches by hand, bailing hay, working in a foundary, controlling livestock to plow a field, or loading and unloading trucks and ships. One needed the physical strength to lift and move large items by hand.

Today many jobs such as computer programming, sales, and engineering require very little physical strength. Modern tools and equipment like fork lifts, backhoes, cranes, tractors, CNC machines, and huge logging machines with pinchers and chain saws have also reduced the amount of strength and stamina needed to do even the traditionally physical jobs, making them much easier. As a result, it no longer makes sense for the man to automatically be the person who works outside of the home and the woman to maintain the home. Choosing who does which is therefore more about what skills each person brings to the marriage and what jobs each person would rather do.

Swapping who works also allows for more physical chores that need to be done at home that might have been hired out in the past to be done by the home husband. For example, where laundry and sewing might have been done by the wife in the past where car repairs and landscaping were hired out, a husband at home might take care of these tasks and clothes be bought at the store and laundry sent out. It all depends on the skills the person at home has and what makes the most sense economically for him or her to be doing with his/her time.

When choosing a mate, finding someone who has skills complementary to yours is important, particularly when it comes to work and children (if you plan to have children). A person who wants to focus on career and rise through the ranks should look for someone who is good with kids and would want to be the primary caregiver. Someone who wants to be the primary homemaker should not find someone who would just punch the clock and head home each day, instead looking for someone who will be ambitious and want to rise up in status and salary. Just like it would make little sense to have four arms and no legs, it makes little sense to have two people who would rather be home together to marry since someone need to generate an income. It also makes little sense for two people who are highly ambitious and who are employed in time-consuming fields like medicine or law to marry. People will always do better when they are doing things that they love. Love your work and you’ll never work a day of your life.

Have a burning investing question you’d like answered?  Please send to smallivy@smallivy.com or leave in a comment.

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

2 comments

  1. Thanks for writing this! My wife and I have been married for 10 years and have made many of the choices that you describe here. She stays home with our little kids and manages our household, while I bring home the proverbial bacon. It works wonderfully, though it isn’t easy. My wife is an amazing partner who really transforms our house from a building into a home. Our children really benefit from having her there, and I think that doing a good job raising children is one of the most important things that people can do. I can’t imagine anyone on earth who would do a better job raising our children than my wife. It means some sacrifices for both of us, but our children are worth it.

    • Thank you. I really think dividing up the responsibilities is a really good system, although I do agree that in the past many women were forced into taking care of the children and the home when they were better suited for the workplace and many men were forced into the workplace when they would have been much better and happier at home. Rather than let each person decide where they fit best and find a mate who complements their skills, however, we’ve gone to a society where everyone works outside of the home and those who don’t are seen as less. Then when that system doesn’t work, we look for the government to solve it by magically providing “high-quality free childcare.” I also actually wonder how much less families take home in salary since we’ve effectively doubled the workforce. Having companies provide childcare would either reduce wages further or increase prices, leaving families worse off.

      I’m sure you and your wife have also come to realize that there is very little people do at work that will have as long lasting an impact as raising a child well. More presentations are forgotten in a week. A report will be read then filed away. But the children will shape the world in 20 to 30 years and have an impact for decades.

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