We're happy to present this story from one of our favorite sites, The Good Men Project. Today, Albert Okagbue asks what it takes to afford marriage.
As a man, when I think about marriage I ask myself: When can I afford it? I understand that the formula for eligible bachelors weighs income and wealth very heavily. Recently, an article on The Atlantic entitled "All the Single Ladies" reinforced this notion, with its many implications that men who are not doing well financially are unworthy of marriage.
"All the Single Ladies" makes clear the idea that because women can now earn as much as men, the relative financial impact of a man's income in a marriage is much smaller than it was 20 or more years ago. In addition, we all face the reality that many of us who have high earnings (men and women) have a lot of debt with it, and therefore much less cash for weddings, honeymoons, engagement rings, and even residential homes.
So when can a man afford marriage? I have come up with two scenarios that can help answer this question. In my view, there are two financial strategies for marriage, and both of them can work for just about anyone. Just keep reading.
Earn first, then marry
This is the traditional method, where a man earns much more his wife. To follow this model these days, most men have to (a) wait at least till their mid-thirties to get married or (b) strategically select a spouse from a profession that pays much less than he earns. Likewise, a woman might have to marry someone 5-10 years older than she is, and/or only consider those who earn more than she does.
This model works because regardless of the actual income numbers, both parties will get a financial structure that most of us are used to. Very few of our generation grew up in households where the mother earned as much as (or more than) the father, and as such we are all more familiar with the dynamics that creates in a home. If a family built this way lives below its means, there will probably never be a time that the woman feels the pressure of "providing" for the family, nor a time that the man will lack the joy that comes with that responsibility.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
––from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
I personally prefer a woman who is intelligent and self-sufficient (blame my mother and sisters), so this model is extremely difficult for me. Most such women I meet earn about the same as I do; many actually have more money. For those of us with any combination of low income or high debt, "earning first" means waiting a long time to start a family, which has implications for our personal and financial life.
A man that chooses this model might be too old to "run around" with his children, or he might ask his future wife to wait a very long time in the "girlfriend" or "fiancé" zone. Additionally, he might have a hard time respecting women due to a belief that they are only interested in his money. Fortunately, there is another option.
Marry first, then earn
This method is only possible in the 21st Century because today's women earn well. It allows two adults to marry as soon as one of them is working. Some couples will marry while in college or graduate school; others will marry while the man is still under-earning, with the hope that his income will grow. In either case, the couple has to mentally overcome the American dream and live very cheaply. The couples' parents too have to understand that money will come over time, and have faith that the couple can grow financially together. However, this model will allow for grandchildren to be born sooner and sent off to college by the time the couple is in their fifties.
The major risks in this model are created by the growing number of men who refuse to grow professionally in the way that will provide the best financial benefits to their families. Successful women often avoid these men by only considering those that have already "made it" — this makes it hard on the other types of men who haven't "made it" yet.
. . . "All the Single Ladies," basically describes men who are in their 30s and still single, and those who have fallen on hard times, as unmarriageable leftovers. They are the men that she encourages women not to "settle" for.
Her idea of a "good man" or a "marriageable" man is one whose worth is quantified almost exclusively in financial terms.
For many women, Bolick suggests, character doesn't seem to be on the same terms as money or class status when they are sizing up potential mates.
The above is a quote from an underemployed man in his 30s with about $75K in student loans.
When should you marry?
Marriage is incredibly complex, so I believe that two working adults should do it when they are ready. Money should be made a secondary issue (or a non-issue) whenever more important life issues are at risk. Of course, one may decide to pick one of the above models first, and only consider marriage with someone whose status is consistent with it.
The first model appears to be acceptable to a larger number of women than the second, but the second seems to provide more male candidates these days than the first.
Which of the above financial models for marriage will you use/or are you using? Which one would you recommend to your brothers and sisters? Ladies, what do you think?
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