Did trade with China kill your mar­riage prospects?

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - BY DANIELLE PAQUETTE danielle.paquette@wash­post.com

Last week, a 48-year-old man in Ch­ester­ton, Ind., posted on Craigslist that he’d like to find love: “Look­ing for a Real Woman.” He de­scribed him­self as a hard worker — “at Steel Mill, so yes I work shifts.” He listed his in­come at $75,000. “I am fi­nan­cially sta­ble,” he wrote. Mil­len­ni­als on Tin­der may ques­tion his ap­proach, but a new study on the eco­nom­ics of mat­ing sug­gests the steel­worker might know what he’s do­ing.

Re­searchers have found the mar­riage-mar­ket value of het­ero­sex­ual men tends to be tied to their em­ploy­ment sta­tus. Data show women are more likely to re­ject a com­mit­ment if a suitor can’t help pay the bills. So when jobs dis­ap­pear, so do po­ten­tial hus­bands — and that so­cial shift has rocked ar­eas where man­u­fac­tur­ing work has dried up.

Over the past two decades, the United States has lost more than 4.5 mil­lion man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs — a blow that dis­pro­por­tion­ately hit men’s em­ploy­ment, since th­ese in­dus­tries are male­dom­i­nated. Al­though man­u­fac­tur­ing makes up less than 10 per­cent of the econ­omy, fac­tory work for years has of­fered Amer­i­cans with­out col­lege de­grees a re­li­able ticket to the mid­dle class.

After swaths of eco­nomic se­cu­rity van­ished across the Rust Belt states, Pres­i­dent Trump made man­u­fac­tur­ing a cen­ter­piece of his 2016 cam­paign, and vot­ers in Michi­gan, Ohio, Wis­con­sin and Penn­syl­va­nia — most of whom lacked higher ed­u­ca­tion — helped push him into of­fice.

A blend of forces drove the job dis­rup­tion, which has ig­nited a fierce po­lit­i­cal de­bate around the costs of glob­al­iza­tion. In 1994, the na­tion opened seam­less trade with China and Mex­ico, al­low­ing com­pa­nies to tap cheaper la­bor be­yond the bor­der. Tech­nol­ogy, mean­while, has rapidly ad­vanced, en­abling fac­to­ries to pro­duce more goods with fewer peo­ple.

At the same time, mar­riage rates have dropped. Be­tween 1979 and 2008, the share of mar­ried Amer­i­can women ages 25 to 39 fell by at least 10 per­cent­age points across all ed­u­ca­tion lev­els.

A team of eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sors — MIT’s David Au­tor, the Univer­sity of Zurich’s David Dorn and the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at San Diego’s Gor­don Han­son — wanted to un­der­stand whether th­ese phe­nom­ena were re­lated. They dug into gov­ern­ment data around birth, mar­riage, em­ploy­ment and trade from 1990 to 2007, look­ing for con­nec­tions be­tween fac­tory shifts and fam­ily struc­ture.

“We saw that, in some ar­eas, man­u­fac­tur­ing is an eco­nomic foun­da­tion on which a lot of other so­cial ar­range­ments rest,” Au­tor said.

After a “trade shock,” or a burst of Chi­nese im­ports cre­at­ing harsher com­pe­ti­tion for sim­i­lar Amer­i­can prod­ucts, he said, jobs dipped in man­u­fac­tur­ing-heavy ar­eas. (The au­thors sin­gled out China be­cause the avail­able data al­lowed for pre­cise mea­sure­ments.) The drops, Au­tor said, were linked to a re­duc­tion of what the au­thors called “mar­riage­able” men.

They found that one trade shock was associated with a 0.75 per­cent­age-point drop in mar­riage preva­lence among young women. They also doc­u­mented a drop in the birth rate (4 per­cent for women ages 20 to 39) in man­u­fac­tur­ing-re­liant ar­eas. The share of ba­bies born out­side mar­riage, how­ever, in­creased slightly. Au­tor guesses that’s be­cause mar­riage is more op­tional to some women than moth­er­hood (and not ev­ery preg­nancy is planned).

Trade shocks tended to af­fect men’s and women’s em­ploy­ment equally, but earn­ings of men in the lower third of the in­come dis­tri­bu­tion fell rel­a­tive to their fe­male coun­ter­parts, the re­searchers noted. (Since man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs are among the high­est-pay­ing work some­one with­out higher ed­u­ca­tion can find, there are few fi­nan­cially lat­eral moves from a shut­tered fac­tory.)

When that hap­pened, more young men than in gen­er­a­tions past left an area or joined the mil­i­tary. Upticks in crime and early deaths sug­gested some turned to drugs and al­co­hol. The trade shocks, Au­tor said, “made men less at­trac­tive.”

Not that women were shal­lowly seek­ing out riches. They just had less in­cen­tive to form do­mes­tic part­ner­ships with some­one who lacked the abil­ity to pull their weight.

Which makes the Craigslist steel­worker’s ap­proach in the search for ro­mance savvy. In Porter County, Ind., where his post in­di­cates he lives, man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs have fallen 9 per­cent since 2001, from 10,826 to 9,868. As­sum­ing his per­sonal ad is true, he re­mains gain­fully em­ployed — a pre­req­ui­site to what Au­tor and his col­leagues con­sider “mar­riage­able.”

MYKAL MCELDOWNEY/INDYSTAR

Over the past two decades, the U.S. has lost more than 4.5 mil­lion man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs — a blow that dis­pro­por­tion­ately hit male em­ploy­ees such as th­ese bear­ings plant work­ers in In­di­ana.

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