The Managing Director of Twitter Ireland and the CEO of IDA Ireland have endorsed a ‘Yes’ vote in the forthcoming marriage referendum. The former argued that there is a good business case to be made for it, while the latter suggested that a ‘Yes’ would be in Ireland’s economic interest. Is there any substance to these arguments?
Estimating any direct fiscal benefits to the Irish economy from a ‘Yes’ vote is quite challenging. In the United States, where same-sex unions are now legal in 36 states, several reports have estimated its economic impact. Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage was legalised in 2004, has benefited by about $25 million a year. For California, the benefits have been estimated at around $40 million a year. All told, Ireland cannot expect a massive windfall either way.
Therefore, it may be more appropriate to focus on the microeconomics of marriage. Economists treated traditional marriage as involving separate roles and specialisation. In the 1970s, the Nobel Prize winning economist, Gary Becker wrote some famous articles describing the family as an economic institution. In Becker’s economic models, a husband and wife couple led to a more productive unit, as it allowed one spouse to specialise in earning income from working in the market, while the other specialised in the household. This division of labour allows for greater productivity, just as it does in the workplace.
This ‘separate-sphere’ perspective on family roles and marriage is now outdated. Although Becker’s economic benefits no longer apply, marriage has evolved rather than disappeared as an institution. Modern economists, such as Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson (who happen to be a couple), have described how modern marriage offers different economic benefits. Wolfers and Stevenson describe modern â€œhedonic marriageâ€ as being based on â€œconsumption complementaritiesâ€, i.e. the joy of sharing things and experiences, rather than the production-based gains that motivated Becker’s traditional marriage. Modern marriages should be marriages of equality where couples with more similar interests and values can derive greater benefits. This evolving nature of heterosexual marriage has obviously made the rite more attractive to same-sex couples.
Opposing the ongoing shift to marriages of equality is futile. Modern workplaces allow individuals and families to reap greater returns by selling their specialised skills and services outside the home. Improvements in female education across most of the world will continue to raise the opportunity cost of staying at home.
Therefore, given that the family unit has evolved from a forum for shared production to one based on shared consumption, it would seem that the best way to let marriage thrive in twenty-first century Ireland is to embrace the new model of marriage equality and to make it available to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation.