Janet Yellen’s Husband on Men, Marriage, and Fatherhood

by W. Bradford Wilcox

One more reason to cheer Janet Yellen’s nomination to be Fed chairman: Her husband, the Nobel Prize–winning economist George Akerlof, has written some of the best work out there on family and economics. His paper “Men without Children,” for instance, does a masterful job of explaining the ways in which marriage transforms men for the better. In Akerlof’s succinct formulation, “men settle down when they get married: if they fail to get married they fail to settle down.”

In “Men Without Children,” Akerlof suggests that marriage is particularly valuable for encouraging men to double down in their work, all in service of their wife and any children that come along. Indeed, a large body of evidence, including work by the economist Robert Lerman suggests that the income premium that married men enjoy from the marital state is around 20 percent. In other words, men who get and stay married earn markedly more than unmarried men from similar backgrounds because marriage makes men work harder, more strategically, and with greater success.

Akerlof also argues that the retreat from marriage has particularly baleful consequences on poor and working-class men. Without access to good professional opportunities to focus their talents, time, and ambitions, single men in poor and working class communities are more likely to turn to dangerous or dissolute activities. That’s why Akerlof hypothesized that “low marriage rates will lead to increases in the social pathologies of hopelessness, such as crime and drug addiction.”

Akerlof’s work, then, suggests a new reason to be concerned about rising rates of fatherless families. As Family-Studies put it: “It’s widely acknowledged that children suffer when their dads aren’t around, and that divorce and nonmarital child-bearing make this situation increasingly common. Less well-known is the fact that men, too, are hurt by the decline of marriage and fatherhood.”  

So here is hoping that Janet Yellen’s rise to be chairman of the Fed will encourage many more people to become acquainted with the excellent work that her husband has done on the transformative power of marriage on men’s lives.

— W. Bradford Wilcox (@WilcoxNMP) is director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. 


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