The socio-economic costs of contraception

The current issue of First Things has an important piece by Timothy Reichert examining the social impact of contraception. He argues that the modern contraceptive culture has led to “a massive redistribution of wealth and power from women and children to men.”

The popular use of birth control has split the “market” governing gender relations into two uneven halves — a sex market and a marriage market. While in the past, men and women have paired off for the purpose of marriage, with the spread of contraception, relationships may now be exclusively sexual. Given the different romantic priorities between the genders, this has created a serious market imbalance.

The average age at which men exit the sex market and enter the marriage market is higher than the average age at which women make the same decision. This, in turn, means that at each point in time, more men will inhabit the sex market than women. Correspondingly, more women will inhabit the marriage market than men.

The result is easy to see. From the perspective of women, the sex market is one in which they have more bargaining power than men. They are the scarce commodity in this market and can command higher “prices” than men while inhabiting it.

But the picture is very different once these same women make the switch to the marriage market. The relative scarcity of marriageable men means that the competition among women for marriageable men is far fiercer than that faced by prior generations of women. Over time, this means that the “deals they cut” become worse for them and better for men.

That’s just the beginning. If you don’t receive the print version of First Things, you can read Reichert’s entire article here (minus a few graphs). It’s well worth your time.

On a related point, our friend and frequent contributor David Mills is the new deputy editor of First Things. We congratulate David on the new position, and First Things on the wisdom to grab him up.


Brian Saint-Paul


Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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