Bargain Men

Wealth watcher Robert Frank presented some survey data on “marriage for money” in the WSJ last week. Willingness to marry for money was surprisingly widespread, but the question’s tactful wording casts some doubt on the data:

According to a survey by Prince & Associates, a Connecticut-based wealth-research firm, the average “price” that men and women demand to marry for money these days is $1.5 million. The survey polled 1,134 people nationwide with incomes ranging between $30,000 to $60,000 (squarely in the median range for nationwide incomes). The survey asked: “How willing are you to marry an average-looking person that you liked, if they had money?”

The question really gets at how much of a difference there is between a) an “average-looking” person and the respondent’s ideal match, and b) “like” and “love”. . . and since we don’t know if some respondents imputed the latter into the former, it’s not that useful. But I’ll give Prince & Associates credit for limiting the survey to people in a narrow income band–I’ve argued elsewhere that such “willingness to accept” figures are meaningless otherwise.

They also came up with this provocative nugget of data:

Asked how much a potential spouse would need to have to be money-marriage material, women in their 20s said $2.5 million. The going rate fell to $1.1 million for women in their 30s, and rose again to $2.2 million for women in their 40s. Ms. Smock and Russ Alan Prince, Prince & Associate’s founder, both attribute the fluctuation to the assumption that thirty-something women feel more pressure to get married than women in their 20s, so they are willing to lower the price. By their 40s, women are more comfortable being independent, so they’re willing to hold out for more cash.

Men have cheaper requirements. In the Prince survey, their asking price overall was $1.2 million, with men in their 20s asking $1 million and men in their 40s asking $1.4 million. . . . No one in the survey quoted a price of more than $3 million. . . . . Douglas Freeman, a tax and estates attorney in California who works with wealthy families, says the men’s numbers are lower because they would feel threatened by women worth several million dollars.

Though I find Freeman’s projections of monetary machismo unconvincing, this story on “dating down” offers some anecdotal support for his point of view.

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