Needed: Clever Economists to Study Benefits of Marrying Early

| Thu Apr. 4, 2013 11:00 AM EDT

Which is better, getting married early or getting married late? Beats me. My mother got married at 21 and everything turned out pretty well. I got married at 32, and that turned out pretty well too. So I have no nifty anecdotal data to share on this. But how about some nifty statistical data instead? Dylan Matthews throws out a caution:

First, some throat-clearing. None of the data we have on marriage are definitively causal. That's a good thing. To have rock-solid evidence that marriage causes anything, we'd need to randomly require some people to marry at one age and others to marry at another age and then compare the results (and even that study design would have plenty of problems). Human Subjects Committees generally consider such studies unethical and don't let them happen.

This is just begging for one of those clever natural experiments so beloved of economists these days. I'm not clever enough to think of one, but somewhere there has to be something. Like, say, a huge natural disaster somewhere that delayed lots of marriages by a year while everyone was busy rebuilding their towns, while two counties away everyone got married at the usual rate. Or a law that lowered the marriage age in one place but not in a similar state a few hundred miles away. There's gotta be something like that around, doesn't there? Where's freakonomics when you need it?