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Bachelorettes in Debt—The New Reverse Dowry System
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November 07, 2008, 11:07 PM
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My wife raises an interesting point that I`ve never heard anyone discuss. Many of the single women of a certain age who are still actively in the husband-seeking market spend a fortune on themselves to look good and be in the right (i.e., expensive) places to meet Mr. Right. Thus, an awful lot of them have a lot of debt, especially credit card debt, which they keep rolling over to the tune of many thousands of dollars in interest each year.

The question is: when she finally meets a suitable guy, does her debt tend to discourage the fellow from popping the question? I mean, if a couple has gotten pretty serious, but then he finds out she has $40,000 in credit card debt, which she`s paying $5500 per year of interest on, does the idea of a joint checking account start sounding kind of expensive? Especially, if they`re thinking about having kids and he knows she`s going to have to de-emphasize her career for awhile. If she can`t pay off her credit cards now while she`s working full time, she`s not going to pay them off either when she downshifts her career to raise kids. So, marriage is going to cost him $40,000 right off the bat that he hadn`t thought about before.

That can kind of put the damper on romantic impulsivity.

This trend is the opposite of the European tradition of the dowry, in which the bride`s family gives the groom money in return for a lifetime of his work supporting their daughter. (Here in America, we have a quasi-dowry system in which the bride`s parents pay the for the wedding reception and the guests give the couple gifts equal to about their share of the cost of the reception. Thus, when we got married, we received gifts roughly equal to the wedding reception`s cost to my in-laws, which was a nice little haul—maybe four or five months of my after tax salary.)

In contrast, this emerging system in which two thirtysomethings are interested in getting married, but the potential bride is heavily in debt, so her would-be husband is likely to end up on the hook for it, is more like the African "bride price" system in which the groom pays the bride`s father (or maternal uncle in some societies) fifteen head of cattle (or whatever) for the woman. The groom pays in Africa because he`s going to get a lifetime of hard work hoeing the fields out of his wife. (According to Borat, in Kazakhstan, the going price for a bride is 15 gallons of insecticide.)

But, certainly, the African system is less conducive to monogamy, paternal investment in children, and other socially beneficial things than the European dowry system.

So, maybe this explains some of the ever-increasing illegitimacy rate in America?