Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Premarital Sex

It looks like a couple of sociologists are imitating economists with their book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying. The New Republic reviewer has the traditional complaints seen from non-economists.
Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, sociologists both, rely heavily on this theory to explain the sex lives of young adults today. The rise of “the hookup culture” at colleges, they argue, can be attributed in part to the increasing scarcity of men on campus—an oversupply of sellers works to a buyer’s advantage. Sexual economics also suggests that many women look unkindly on promiscuous members of the same sex out of the same impulse that makes retailers angry when Wal-Mart comes to town: they are being undersold, and now they have to give discounts or lose customers.

Regnerus and Uecker are either indifferent or tin-eared about how distasteful this idea is:
Sex might cost little or nothing—a few drinks or some attention and compliments, or simply a promise to be discreet about the liaison. Typically it’s more expensive than that, such as a perceived commitment to being in an exclusive relationship for a while. The highest price a man can pay is a lifetime promise to share all his wealth, income, and affections with a woman exclusively.
Equating an intimate act to a business transaction is not only crass and reductive; it is also analytically misleading. The analogy to commerce implies an adversarial situation wherein the buyer always wants to pay the minimum and the seller wants to get the maximum. But men often find themselves bestowing attention, falling in love, and getting married after they have already been sleeping with the woman in question. Sexual economics has trouble accounting for that. Men willingly overspend, which describes approximately no one who buys a car. Similarly, the pay-for-play hypothesis fails to capture the fact that most women do not want to extract caring and love from a person disinclined to offer it, and they do not see sex as something they wish they could avoid until marriage.
The author fails to understand supply and demand in this context as a matching model. He also has apparently never heard of signaling

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