Magazine article The Spectator

I'm Just a Guy Who Can't Say No

Magazine article The Spectator

I'm Just a Guy Who Can't Say No

Article excerpt

ON 21 July of next year I'm going to do something deeply unfashionable: I'm going to get married. According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of people getting married between 1988 and 1998 declined by approximately 25 per cent, dipping below the 300,000 mark in 1993 for the first time in 50 years. In the same period the number of divorces fell by less than 5 per cent. On current trends, divorces will start outnumbering marriages by the year 2025, though I hope Caroline and I won't be adding to that statistic.

There are two possible explanations for this: either women are turning men down more or men are proposing less. Now it's true that Caroline refused me at least half-a-- dozen times before finally succumbing; but I think men are probably popping the question less. Judging from the presence of Bridget Jones and her pale imitators on the bestseller lists, women certainly seem more anxious about remaining single than men do. Indeed, the reluctance of men to get married - our so-called `commitment phobia' - is one of the main themes of contemporary popular culture, from EastEnders to Men Behaving Badly.

Is it really fear of commitment that's holding us back, or something more rational? According to Dr Jonathan Scales, a research fellow at the Institute of Social and Economic Research, men are financially better off if they remain single. `Men's disposable income drops when they get married, while women's goes up,' he says. Indeed, men's disposable income falls by an average of 15 per cent, whereas women's goes up by 28 per cent. For a man, getting married is like entering a new tax bracket without any corresponding increase in income; it's like moving to Sweden.

My accountant confirmed that there was no tax benefit in getting married, at least not since the government abolished the married couple's allowance last April. `Start saving is the best advice I can give to you,' he said drily. The only advantage he could think of would be if I transferred some of my income-earning assets into Caroline's name in order to equalise our incomes, thereby reducing our joint tax burden. However, he quickly pointed out that I don't have any income-earning assets and, even if I did, there'd be no guarantee that Caroline would return them to me if we got divorced.

My only asset is my London flat and, following a landmark decision by the Law Lords last week, that won't be safe either if things go pear-shaped. It's a common misconception that wives have always been able to lay claim to half their husbands' assets when, in fact, that's only been true of Scotland and not of England and Wales. However, the Law Lords have now decided that judges should regard a 50-50 split as a 'yardstick' when dividing a couple's assets. This means that women are now much more likely to be awarded half in a divorce settlement.

Then there's the cost of the wedding to consider. I've done the sums and, even if Caroline and I restrict ourselves to a fairly modest affair with 150 guests, I can't see us getting away with less than 20,000. Traditionally, this cost was borne by the father of the bride, but not any more. This convention, along with all the other things that used to make marriage attractive to men -- like nice fat dowries - is now decried as 'sexist'. Caroline has already made it clear that she has no intention of changing her name. It's little wonder that most men of marriageable age would prefer to remain single. From a purely financial point of view, getting married is about as sensible as investing your life savings in lastminute.com.

So why am I doing it? Why would any man in possession of a good fortune - or a bedsit in Shepherd's Bush - be in want of a wife? Well, one reason is we're likely to live longer. Linda Waite, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago, has just published a book in America called The Case for Marriage, in which she points out that 90 per cent of married men alive at 48 will still be alive at 65, whereas only 60 per cent of single men alive at 48 will make it to retirement age. …

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