CONTOURS OF MARRIAGE AMIDST COVID-19 THROUGH AN ECONOMIC LENS


This article has been written by Gaurangi Sharma & Divyanshi Shrivastava,

students of National Law University Nagpur.

In light of the recent hit pandemic across the world, the financial hardships have increased manifestly and one of the most severe impacts of these financial adversities has been on the nuptial bonds or marriages. Modern marriages are becoming difficult to be handled there is a sudden increase in the number of divorce requests. In rural areas however, villagers have turned opportunists and are seeing this pandemic as an opportunity to blow away their responsibility of marrying young and minor girls with only a handful of money in their pockets. Thus, the institution of marriage is on shaky grounds due to the thunder of financial atrocities. This article is thus, an economic analysis of marriage during COVID-19 wherein the authors seek to explain the applicability of Gary Becker’s theory of economics of marriage and also the implications of CBA, Division of Labor and other economic tools to identify the viability of marriage through an economic lens amid COVID.


Marriage as an Institution


Marriage is a social institution which was earlier considered to be a way of being socially sacrosanct and to continue the family lineage. However, as time changed, economics started playing a crucial role in determining the maintainability of this social institution. Analysing behavioural economics in this context, a marriage is presumed to be based on financial stability, economic tradeoffs and the way two partners decide to economically invest in this relationship. In “Treatise of the Family” paper, Gary Becker, Nobel Laureate (1930-2014) explained the work done by husband and wife in terms of division of labor. This paper was written at a time when women were domestic specialists aka home makers and men worked outside the home. According to Becker, couples select each other in these marriage markets where there is supply and demand, like any other ordinary market. It was presumed that men and women ‘bid’ for each with a value based mindset and based on the contribution that the couple could potentially have in their married life. But the type of contribution has now changed economically. Women have started to enter various professions and are continuing to economically support their married life. Thus, in marriages where both partners are earning members of the family, the concept of division of labor has significantly changed. With change in the division of labor, the socio-economic institution of marriage has also changed. Economists like Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson point out how modern marriage has become more about companionship rather than only having children and becoming socially accepted in the society. Therefore now we have switched to consumption complementarities instead of production complementarities. But financial stability, companionship and other benefits of marriage are subject to the normality subsisting in the society.


Recession and its Impact on Marriage


This was observed during the time of recession in United States by some researchers considering marital satisfaction to be a mechanism which linked recession adversities and mental health. Financial atrocity experienced by people during 2008 recession included increased debt, unemployment, threats of foreclosure/eviction etc. This drastically increased disagreement on money matters, completing the household work, ways of spending leisure time thereby resulting in mental agony, that is, anxiety, depression, negative mood. Thus, married couples were reported to enter into more disagreements due to higher financial instabilities during the recession. A behavioral phenomenon of married couples also include their likeliness to invest and spend in what they think to be their current income, that is, the amount mentioned in their regular paycheck. Applying the ‘Prospect Theory’ in this regard which suggests that individual makes decisions based on the expected value of gains and losses and not on expected financial outcome, Professor Richard Thaler, University of Chicago argues in his research that an individual uses financial windfalls in different ‘mental accounts’ which influences what they do with the money. Taking into account this theory, the paycheck when not surmounted with the expected money due to economic downfall of the country will create a negative mental account for the individual, the way of spending/saving the interim amount by that time will change and this, if does compensate the mental satisfaction of the married couple, will lead to severed relationship and may conclude with a divorce.


Impact on Marriage as an Institution during COVID 19


COVID-19 is no different in terms of economic adversity than recession in U.S during 2008[i]. The falling economy across the nations and halted employment rates, lesser amount of paychecks and unstable conditions of the society, it is becoming increasingly difficult for married couples to cohabit in a sustainable environment with their married partner. Financial adversities are leading to an unprecedented number of divorce requests in some parts of the world, increased domestic violence, and an unhealthy and unhappy marriage. Also, postponement of weddings during COVID-19 to avoid transmission of virus at a community level and due to lack of financial soundness of some middle class families because of economic instability is also becoming a major reason for cancelation of weddings in India, a report suggests. The economic loss due to the pandemic has become startling for the subsistence of marriage within this time period. Child marriage is another vicious impact of COVID 19 in India. Deepening poverty due to pandemic is adding financial burden on families hence causing them to marry their daughters at an early age. This is because deep-inside still our Indian society considers daughter an economic burden. However this will drastically affect the ordeal taken up by legal luminaries, NGO’s and government towards curbing the menace of child marriage.


Economic Analysis of Present Situation


The tool of cost benefit analysis and market analysis can be applied to marriage. According to this economic approach, people marry when a (conscious or unconscious) comparison of costs and benefits makes marriage look profitable. Benefits can be material, social or spiritual. Costs are not simply financial or material. They depend on the value a person attaches to alternative uses of time, and hence in the present situation also this value varies according to people. People belonging to lower stratum find this opportunity perfect as it is an escape from economic hardships. For instance government notification on wedding which permits only 50 people is a encouragement for people as the marriage budget gets affordable hence increasing marriage rate.

However for people already in a marriage knot finds pandemic burdensome as the overall stress like unemployment, economic hardship, job loss, pay cut make them give a hard look to their partners. As per Becker marriage dissolve when utility expected from staying married falls below utility expected from divorce. During pandemic this utility is moved by various factors like fear of job loss, stress of maintaining family which tend people to move towards marriage breakdowns and divorces.


Conclusion


The recent pandemic and current economic uncertainty will continue to put families under pressure for some time to come. Hence the problems will continue to contribute stress and therefore legal services have to play a crucial role in mitigating detrimental effects. Counselling, consultation are some services which can be provided to mollify stress occurring between couple due to current economic conditions.

Legal Aid Scheme can be developed for people on low incomes and in need of counselling. These services can help significantly in reducing divorce and marriage breakdown arising due to economic stress. And for preventing child marriages government has to play active role by gearing up CHILD LINE numbers created for rescue of children from marriages.

The Prohibition of Child Marriage (PCM) Act, 2006 criminalise child marriage however recent statistics of child marriage during lockdown indicates a fallacy in implementation of law. Child Marriage Prohibition Officer (CMPO) as per the act is expected to play an active role in these unprecedented times to prevent child marriages especially in rural areas; also NGO’s can help in creating awareness drive and establishing vigilance. India has social achievements when it comes to eradication of some diabolical practices like child marriage, however little negligence during pandemic is capable to undo all our efforts.


Disclaimer: This article is an original submission of the Authors.

NLR does not hold any liability arising out of this article.

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