Friday, December 10, 2004

Love and Marriage

I don't spend all my time thinking about serious things. I went to see the Bridget Jones sequel recently. All these ads for tampons and lingerie seemed well targeted, as I think I was the only male present in the cinema. Perhaps this gives me a unique perspective on the story.

As I sometimes do, I had a hard time suspending my disbelief. One thing Renee Zellweger does very well is the ringing English accent; not only is it entertaining, I've just met someone recently who speaks in exactly the same way.

The film starts off there the first one ended, with Bridget a short-time into a relationship with her human-rights lawyer boyfriend. The first jarring note is that all the human rights activist lawyers I've ever encountered aren't affluent Old Etonians. Rather, they tend to carry their papers in plastic supermarket bags and look undernourished.

It's a disastrous coupling: She's emotionally incontinent, socially guache and empty-headed. Her Mr Darcy's on the other hand, is a upper-class stiff in a Saville Row suit, snobbish, unempathetic and frequently hostile. They can't seem to have a rational discussion about anything without a bitter argument. I can't see the point of a happy ending for these two: I'd expect their marriage, shoud it materialise to end up with her an overweight alcoholic and him a wife-beater.

It's a little early to get in the mood for Valentine's Day. However, Nobelist Gary Becker also hypothesises that rational choices, convenient to model with microeconomic models, will play a key role in marriage and divorce, "...persons marry when the utility expected from marriage exceeds the utility expected from remaining single. It is natural to assume further that couples separate when the utility expected from remaining married falls belci the utility expected from divorcing and possibly remarrying. One way to reconcile the relatively high utility expected from marriage at the time of marriage and the relatively low utility expected at the time of dissolution is to introduce uncertainty and deviations between expected and realized utilities. That is to say, persons separating presumably had less favorable outcomes from their marriage than they expected when marrying."

He also notes: Instead of basing the distinction between quits and layoffs on rigidity in the wage or marital division, a more promising approach relies on the causeof a job or marital separation. A quit could be said to result from an improvement in opportunities elsewhere, and a layoff from a (usually unexpected) worsening in opportunities in this job or marriage. This way of distinguishing quits from layoffs has many implications, among them that persons quitting have shorter spells of unemployment (or duration of time to remarriage) than persons laid off, and improve their circumstances more in their new jobs (or marriages).

I think that the patterns I observed of divorce among my circle of acquaintences was consistent with a rational expectations model of divorce by the spouses of bankers, so there was a rash of writs through 2002 and 2003, when alimony was calculated based on the bonuses earned at the peak of the bull market in the early part of the decade,

Another noticeable trend was an epidemic of pregnancy among female bankers during 2002 and 2003, as their time was much less valuable during a downturn. The fact that British employment legislation makes it almost impossible to sack a woman on maternity leave probably played its part during the mass-redundancies that cleared out entire buildings in the City of London.