Premia and Double Standards
By Bryan Caplan
Why are economists so quick to encourage college and so slow to encourage marriage? Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry has a good story:
[E]conomists’ “cosmopolitan perspective” (as Cowen puts it) makes them
not feel good at the idea of public policy that would interfere with
personal choices (allowing for a second that getting married is a
“personal choice” in a way that going to college isn’t). Most economists
think that government should not interfere or have a stance one way or
another with decisions that feel intimate to people. That is a complete
value judgement. And it’s a completely defensible one.
But at the level of the economics profession, this leads to bias:
much more ink is spilled on, and thought given to the college wage
premium than the marriage wage premium. One is mostly praised and
interpreted in a certain way, while the other is mostly ignored.
I think Pascal correctly describes the distinction most economists implicitly make. But as his parenthetical hints, economists who make this distinction are utterly confused.
In a sense, both marriage and college are “personal choices.” Everyone has his own feelings and beliefs about them, and your mileage may vary. In another sense, though, neither marriage nor college are “personal choices.” We have good reasons to discount our feelings and beliefs about marriage and college, because our feelings predictably change and our beliefs are often systematically mistaken.