Bryan Caplan  

Have Sexual Harassment Policies Affected the Marriage Market?

Feynman's Question... Britain's Bureaucratic State...

Have sexual harassment laws (and their stricter enforcement) noticeably reduced the probability of co-workers marrying? Have they noticeably reduced the probability of people getting married at all?

If the workplace is one of the main places where people meet, it's not hard to believe that discouraging workplace dating could have substantial effects on the marriage market. But I can't recall hearing about any evidence either way. Anyone?

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (7 to date)
randy the first writes:

Not exactly what you're after, but didn't Arnold recently write an article about "assortative mating" people are increasingly pairing with people having simliar educational levels and earnings?

Dave writes:

This paper references a French study (cited on page 9) that says only just over 10% of young couples meet in the workplace. This could be the result of tight sexual harassment laws (I don't know French law), or it could mean the workplace is less important than we think. I'm not sure what the actual numbers are for the US, or if they've declined, but I do know from my personal experience lots of companies where people still marry internally pretty frequently.

david writes:

Avoiding office romance because of sexual harassment laws is like avoiding airports because you're afraid of being arrested for terrorism. There may be rules that strike you as silly or arbitrary (don't joke about bombs!) but a minimally socially competent person who doesn't have self-destructive impulses has nothing to fear.

Compare that to all the real hazards of dating in the workplace, such as embarrassment and poor performance when relationship problems spill over into work, and sexual harassment is a pretty distant threat. (Again, for minimally socially competent people. Someone who is frustrated or clueless enough to persistly offer unwanted attention had better keep themselves on a tight leash -- but a) were those people going to get married anyway? and b) are those people smart enough to be scared off by sexual harassment laws?)

The only recent development (if it is recent -- I'm too young to know) that inhibits office romance is the taboo against relationships between superiors and subordinates. Even relationships between equals are darkened by the threat of promotion hanging over them. C'est la vie. It's a small loss anyway -- if that cute babe at the office really likes you, she'll be happy to introduce you to her sisters and girlfriends.

David Flath writes:

Translation forthcoming in The Japanese Economy (M.E. Sharpe publisher):
Miho Iwasawa* and Fusami Mita**, "Boom and Bust in Marriages at Work and the Marriage Decline in Japan", The Japanese Journal of Labour Studies, no. 535, January 2005, pp. 16-28.

*National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, email:
**National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

In this paper, we focus on how the trend in meeting opportunities between men and women, especially at work or through jobs, is related to the decline of marriage. Using data from the Japanese National Fertility Surveys conducted by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, we show the extent to which changes in the incidences of each type of meeting have contributed to the decline in the first marriage rate since the 1970s. The results indicate that the decrease can be attributed to the drop in the number of arranged marriages (including those introduced by relatives and superiors) which accounts for approximately 50% of the decrease, and to the drop in the number of marriages between coworkers or through meeting on the job which accounts for nearly 40% of the decrease. In other words, the incidences of other types of love marriages such as meetings “at school,” “through friends and siblings,” and “while in town or traveling” have hardly changed in the last forty years. The role of matchmaker, once played by the corporate community under the unique environment in terms of population structure, economy and employment during the 1960s and 1970s, has been shrinking without a corresponding rise elsewhere. Most unmarried corporate workers, both men and women, are working long hours as in the past, and sufficient new meeting opportunities to offset the decrease in opportunities at work have not appeared. These findings reveal that the supply side of shrinking opportunities for partner choice, as well as the demand side of marriage (cost and benefit), are the significant factors behind the rising proportion of never-married, and also suggest that the current phenomenon cannot be readily resolved without drastic changes in the consciousness of work. life balance, on the part of both companies and individuals.

jaim klein writes:

If anything, a puritanical environment should promote legal marriage. But it is too complex. I dont know.

ben writes:


Re: "It's a small loss anyway -- if that cute babe at the office really likes you, she'll be happy to introduce you to her sisters and girlfriends."

I think the opposite, if she likes you she'll won't help you meet her friends.

My take, is that offices have long memories, so the opportunity costs (reputation, ability to date a different coworker later) of dating someone are pretty high so the sexual harassment laws don't pose much of an additional burden.

Kelly writes:

I personally do not believe that sexual harassment laws have had any sort of impact on marriage in the workplace. Yes, these laws may have brought more sexual harassment disputes to the surface, but I believe that if two people are attracted to eachother then they do not have sexual harassment in mind. I also think that if marriages between co-workers has decreased, then it is mainly due to societal changes concerning views on marriage, rather than sexual harassment laws.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top