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I think health benefits are a huge incentive to marry in the US. Cannot remember the source now (it is early in the morning?), but I was astounded to read sometime last year that to have a cohabiting relationship recognized as common law, in many states, one had to go through a registration process that looked a lot like a civil marriage (to me,anyway).

My personal experience (in the US) confirms the hypothesis. I got married when I did so my wife could get health insurance. Would have gotten married soon after that anyway due to tax incentives - I was earning sufficiently more than her that being married was beneficial. However, the other half of the story doesn't apply to us - we're still married almost 18 years later.

In the US, is your wife's maternity costs covered if she is pregnant when you marry? Might be interesting to look at how soon after marriage the first baby arrives.

"In the US, is your wife's maternity costs covered if she is pregnant when you marry? Might be interesting to look at how soon after marriage the first baby arrives."

Hmm, I see a problem with that. That result is probably closely correlated with the uniquely American (at least among developed countries) incidence of religious observance and gun ownership (see "Shotgun Wedding" http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/shotgun_wedding).

religion in the US is another obvious reason....

"devout religious types are driving the marriage rate, we wouldn't expect to see so many divorces."

Sorry Frances, couldn't let this pass by. It's an over-broad generalization. Just taking Christianity, the attitude to marriage and divorce among different churches varies quite a bit. There are four camps actually.

Camp 1: Marriage is a Sacrament, Divorce not allowed.

This is the exclusive position of the Roman Catholic Church but its teachings aren't shared by any any other church.

Camp 2: Marriage is a sacrament, divorce permitted.

Actually the teaching of the Eastern Orthodox Churches which permit up to three divorces per person and the Episcopal Church (Anglican) which depending on who you talk to will call marriage a sacrament on a par with Baptism.

The Anglican Church of Canada is here too.

Camp 3: Marriage is not a sacrament, divorce is permitted.

Most mainline Protestants actually fall into this camp. The United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Church (not the Southern).

In Canada both the United Church is here too.

This isn't a new thing, it's actually a long standing result of Reformation sacramental theology.

Camp 4: Marriage is not a sacrament, divorce frowned upon.

I believe the Southern Baptists fall into this camp but I have to check.

In practice Camps 2 and 3 can merge into one another. Most Anglican or United Church couples couldn't tell the difference between their church's views unless a minister told them, which just shows you it's a fine point of theology.

Determinant - if you're interested see, for example, this article on economics of religion and behaviour.

This study finds a (weak) negative relationship between religious observance and divorce probabilities.

Sure, religion is probably part of the story. But it just doesn't seem plausible to me that people who get married rather than live together for religious reasons then go off and blithely get divorced.

Marrying for insurance coverage seems much more plausible. And if it doesn't work out, you get divorced and find someone else with decent insurance...

"But it just doesn't seem plausible to me that people who get married rather than live together for religious reasons then go off and blithely get divorced."

I don't think it's that much of a stretch. After all, people get married when they're (relatively) young and therefore either idealistic (and therefore buy into their religious doctrine) or because they're subject to family influence based on religious doctrine (see "Shotgun Weddings" above). They get divorced when they're older, independent of their families, and more wordly and cynical. Moreover, getting married is a relatively low cost way of showing your devotion, at least initially (I mean, let's face it, my life didn't change much simply because my wife and I got married). Staying married when you and your spouse hate one another is a relatively high cost way of showing your devotion, it's not surprising that religious faith might drive up the marriage rate without depressing the divorce rate.

Moreover, if health insurance explained the higher rate of marriage, shouldn't the US also have a low rates of divorce? After all, the decision to marry is just the inverse of the decision to divorce. Now, it's true that the US divorce rate hasn't increased much since the 1970's, so you might be able to tell a story that the growth rate has been held down by high health cost, but on the other hand it is the highest divorce rate in the world, so that doesn't seem plausible.

Finally, for your last chart, I wonder if the correlation you're noticing is really a correlation between social spending (with private health care as an indirect, and inverse, proxy) and marriage- with the theory being that marriage rates will be lower with higher social spending - i.e., the traditional two-parent family becomes less of an economic neccesity for survival. I don't doubt there is an abundance of literature discussing the link between social spending and and low marriage rates (although I'm too lazy to look for any of it).

I find remarkable some aspects of your overview that no one remarks on:
1) Looking at Christian countries in Europe and N.America, note how big southern European Roman Catholic countries cluster at the low end of the marriage-rate scale - (Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium; where Protestant countries predominate on the left. Orthodox countries are in the middle. (As a Chicagoan, I can testify that Polish and Irish Roman Catholics live in a different mental universe than Latin Catholics).
2) You note the US high divorce rate, but it has barely moved since 1970, where it has increased by 50, 100, 200, 700 percent everywhere else. During this 40-year period the US healthcare delivery has remained virtually the same - so has the healthcare delivery system in most other OECD countries.
3) You do not note the difference in life expectancy. A graph of the delta in life expectancy for the same countries 1970-2009 would look rather like the divorce-rate change, wouldn't it - where the US was an outlier in 1970, but the vast majority of OECD countries catching up radically in the next 40 years. One theory about the incidence of divorce is that the duration of marriages has not changed much if at all in the last 150 years - it's just that in the 19th century, one partner or would likely oblige the other by dying within 15 years (say) of the wedding, whereas nowadays we are not so polite. When life expectancy rises, it doesn't make us more willing to put up with an unhappy marriage for longer. This would explain the explosion in divorce rates elsewhere than in the US.
4) religious observance: in 1970 the US was not an outlier. We've stayed the same; everyone else has changed.
5) Family structure. As a nation of immigrants unconnected to a mother country, the US destroys the ability of families, tribes, castes, classes, etc., in older cultures to create obstacles to marriage - or to arrange them. It's psychologically and legally easier for young people to marry in the US, and has been so for centuries. In comparison, the barriers to marriage in "donor" countries dissolved relatively recently - since the 1960s. It's not American "religiosity," but, in a way, the opposite - American freedom - that led to our high marriage rate.
Our high divorce rate comes from exactly the same cause: those barriers to early marriage that American "aculturalism" overcame were USEFUL AND THEY WORKED. Given more freedom to marry without parental, tribal, priestly supervision, Americans made more bad marriages, and American marriages didn't have the cultural support - or strict supervision - with which traditional societies surrounded the married couple. Again, this is nearly done with everywhere, hence the catch-up.

"The welfare state and the family can be seen, to some extent, as substitutes - both are forms of social organization that provide care and security to others."
Yeah, or so say the Scandinavians [1]

1- http://www.globalutmaning.se/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Davos-The-nordic-way-final.pdf

Sam - you raise a number of interesting points and, yes, all of this stuff is likely important. Like I said, when there's a phenomenon with many possible causes (religiosity, tax incentives, culture, demographics) it is impossible to attribute cost-country differences to any one particular cause.

But for anyone who is familiar with the literature on the sociology, psychology, economics etc of the family, the points that you raise are fairly standard. (On US life expectancy, you have to look at population sub-goups. And seniors are one of the growing groups of people 'living in sin' because the cost of re-marriage for widows/widowers can be prohibitive because of loss of social security/pension benefits.)

The point of the post was that health insurance provides an additional reason for marriage in addition to the standard reasons that are discussed in the literature. And this is almost never discussed in the literature.

On early marriage - economics is important here too. Age of first marriage is correlated with the strength of the economy - e.g. it went right up in the Great Depression.

As an aside - I know of at least two couples - one in Canada, one in the US - who decided to get married because it was practically impossible to live/work/travel in the US as a cohabiting couple.

But the US isn't unique in that regard. My husband and I got married much younger than most of our contemporaries in part because of Canadian immigration requirements.

My parents live separately and my mother doesn't speak to my father, but she still receives health insurance through their marriage. Given the 204 job applications she has put out in less that 2 year, I can't really fault her on that...

There is an episode of Desperate Housewives a few seasons ago when Terri Hatcher's character is desperately trying to marry someone to get health insurance.

Blikktheterrible, Elisabeth, thanks for those, Frances

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