How to Choose a Husband

Almost twice as many women as men wish they had married someone else, according to this (admittedly dated) survey about marriage and regret. One in five married women, or 22%, said that if they could go back in time they would change their husband. Just 12% of married men said they’d picked the wrong wife.

Is that because women are fickle? Or because men make poor spouses?

Here’s our theory: Men do their homework before tying the knot. More aware of something called “asymmetric information,” men aren’t ready to settle down for the long haul until they’ve done their research.

Economists talk about asymmetric information, in which one person knows more than another, to explain problems that come up in the used-car market. For example, I know the Subaru Baja I’m trying to sell has been in a dozen accidents. You don’t–which means you’re at a serious disadvantage when deciding whether to pony up $5,000 for it or not.

Same deal with dating. I know my own history. My prospective husbands only know what I choose to tell them.

So unless you want a lemon (car or spouse), you better do your research–or you might live to regret it.

Which brings us to our conclusion: Men who are dismissed as scared of commitment or commitment-phobic might, in fact, just be “doing their research” so they don’t end up one of the 12% of husbands who wish they’d married someone else.

Perhaps women should think about doing the same.

Posted in commitment, dating

17 Responses to How to Choose a Husband

  1. Jessie K says:

    I definitely agree that women are a lot more fickle than men. As soon as we get something we want, it suddenly loses its value. We start second-guessing the entire decision making process.

  2. sonya says:

    This is really interesting. Are women more inclined to make impulse purchases in general? Can the readiness to marry be called impulsive? How strong is the lure of the “happily ever after,” and the picturesque wedding? It seems once women are married, their “worth” is confirmed, where as for men, they’re tied down and their virility stripped. I can see how I might rush for one and take my sweet time with the other.

  3. mds says:

    It may be a question of “horizontal” vs “vertical” shopping. Men may be slower to reach decisions because they are more comprehensive (vertical) in their research, while women may be swayed by surface traits, only then to regret their choices, years later. Are men likelier to look into warranty options on consumer products? If so, feel free to construct your own metaphors.

  4. Pisces says:

    Interesting that women are the ones who like to go shopping just to go shopping. Men supposedly only shop when they have something in mind that they need to buy.

  5. Mia says:

    How long does it take to do homework? When people have been in relationships for several years and the guy is still vacillating about taking the next step into marriage, it does make you wonder what else does he think he’s going to learn or feel by waiting? Maybe in these cases ‘doing research’ is waiting to see if another more suitable product comes on the market, rather than thoroughly scrutinising the product they have.

  6. Carlito says:

    Perhaps you’re missing the two standard economic points:

    1) Guys tend to be less eager to marry and so will do more upfront work before agreeing to do so and
    2) On average guys (who earn more) also stand to lose more in the event of a divorce especially in the western court system. Hence it makes sense for them to do more upfront research. (I would predict that the male female ratio of prior research would be lower in countries like Russia or Japan where the divorce laws more strongly favor men than in the UK or US).

    • Paula says:

      I can see how having a massive fortune is a big incentive to marry the right person who won’t screw you over. But I guess that’s why god made pre-nups.

      • Judy says:

        “Men who look at marriage as a financial arrangement in which women have the most to gain are not likely to marry – nor are they good prospects.”
        – John T Molloy, “Why Men Marry Some Women and Not Others”

  7. Billu says:

    Its much less to do with anything worldly or man made, more to do with biological clock. . . And assorted attraction. A woman’s time is running out and she can hear it tick. A man has some four decades since puberty to decide, and he knows it. Hence the patience. And i’d say the observation will be the same across cultures, variability depends on women’s median marriage age.

  8. Laserlight says:

    I suspect it’s more common for women to get married with the thought that they can get their spouse to change. Thus the mother’s advice to the bride “You can get through the wedding, dear. Just keep in mind: aisle altar hymn.”

  9. I think choosing husbands are based on your feelings for him, and a little of what you think your future will be with him. Choosing the right man can mean a life full of love, or a life filled with problems and disaster.
    Jessica Lucard
    What husbands can’t resist

  10. Surely at the point of marriage men (as an average) are an appreciating asset. Their ability to earn will increase as a function of time. Women are a depreciating asset. Their ability to have children and be beautiful will decrease as a function of time. No it’s not politically correct to say so, but it does neatly explain who is under pressure to decide in a short time frame, and who’s not…
    (Yes I know I will be condemed to the pits of hell by feminists for this comment)

  11. twicker says:

    Re: homework – as a guy, I doubt that’s what happens. I strongly suspect the answer lies in some of the other information included in the survey.

    For example: more people wish they had traveled more before settling down. Given that married men are more likely to advance farther in careers than married women, married men are more likely to have opportunities for business travel — and thus, I suspect, much of the travel regret would come from women, leading to regret about marrying a spouse who didn’t travel as much.

    Also, 37% of respondents regretted their career choice. Did I mention that married men are more likely to advance in their careers than married women? They’re more likely to have more career flexibility as well, since there’s less expectation that the men will stay near the home to take care of the little ones.

    You also should have questions about who they surveyed. The Daily Mail is a British paper, and Bradford & Bingley was a British bank (they apparently went belly-up in the crisis: more info here at their old website). Given that, my suspicion is that the survey was conducted for marketing purposes in the UK. Do these results apply equally to American women? Would they apply to Indian or Chinese women – or to LatAm women? I’m guessing not.

    Again, I really think the results are mainly suggesting that British women were dissatisfied with some of the other aspects of their relationships — which they then blamed on their mate (a form of the fundamental attribution error). Men, being (I suspect) more likely to be satisfied with careers, level of housework, amount of travel, etc., would thus be less likely to blame their spouse for misfortune (since there’s less misfortune to blame anyone for), and, thus, would be less likely to say they married the wrong person. Given society and its expectations, there’s no need for men to be more careful (c.f. your discussions of moral hazard).

    • Judy says:

      What a well-thought-out analysis, twicker.

      My initial take was that women have less power, and therefore are more dependent on the mercies/vagaries/caprice of their husbands, and therefore are more dissatisfied – because their husbands’ characters have a greater effect on them than vice versa. If you work for a bad boss, it’s probably much more distressing than if you have a bad employee.

      But it didn’t occur to me that women having less power in society OVERALL could be what’s leading to greater dissatisfaction, and that the husbands were bearing a disproportionate share of the blame for this overall dissatisfaction.

      You made me think! Thank you.

  12. Pingback: Blind Dates and Asymmetric Information | Spousonomics

  13. Winkypedia says:

    perhaps it is my fault that i expected a less obvious answer than ‘do your research’ for the question in the title. afterall, i am not reading a woman’s magazine….

  14. mrp says:

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the most obvious asymmetry–that, generally speaking, men do the asking, whereas women only get to say yes or no.

    After a divorce, men tend to jump right back in and get another wife fairly quickly, and they can do so precisely because they are the ones who get to ask. How many men do you know who would like being wooed and proposed to by a woman? How many women would be successful if they tried? While some women may put themselves right back “on the market” and seriously “pursue” a proposal, I think divorce is the point at which many women learn to value themselves more and become very serious about “doing their research”.

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