The world is witnessing a technological leap with wide and far-reaching implications across sectors with disrupting technology having key role in redefining social relationship like marriage. Defining ‘marriage’ by well-known economists like Yoram Weiss in early 1970s may be the basis of analysis which says “marriage is a partnership for the purpose of joint production and joint consumption”. From the economists’ point of view, the purpose of marriage emphasizes enjoying collective consumption of goods and taking advantage of division of labour [ie; adjustments at home, workplace and joint efforts for availing essential goods and services], risk pooling, related activities etc.
Traditional economists across the world explored formulating economic theory of marriage wherein Gary Becker tried to link social institution and practice of marriage like a market. In this sense, they considered marriage contract as “good” influenced by supply and demand factors. Assuming heterosexuality, men supply themselves as partners and demand women as partners; women supply themselves as partners and demand men as partners. Intermediaries [e.g., friends, websites] are considered as “brokers” in their theory and implicit “prices” guide persons to marriages that maximize their utility. Becker assumes everyone is identical, and a person marries if their utility [happiness] from being married is greater than their utility from being single. Transfers between spouses [or their families] divide the gains to marriage and allow the market to operate efficiency. Transfers to women may be called bride prices, and transfers to men may be called dowries. Competition among men for scarce women bid up the transfers to women [and vice versa]. This indeed may be influenced by additional factors such as sex ratio which may either decrease the male marriage rate or female marriage rate or may affect marital transfers too. The matrimonial bureaus or websites in the present day world exactly does this activity.
The traditional analysis by economists are actually in practice across the world including in developing countries, wherein the situation is indeed worse. Suicides and mental torture of women in the name of dowry are widely prevalent in spite of legal safeguards against the same. Social reforms coupled with legislative reforms for increasing the legal age of marriage in several democratic countries has brought interim solutions for women empowerment and their education to great extent. However, the question here is whether technology disruption remould our relations and put an end to these practices.
For a long-term marriage contract, it is inevitable to have togetherness or staying together which in past sometime ushers’ scepticism, cynicism and iterating friction as well, given the situation of distance between partners. In many instances, it leads to crumbling the relationship. Aspiring to material wellbeing and fatty Gross Domestic Product (GDP), essentially requires accelerating the pace of work force especially women, who traditionally does work in house precinct particularly babysitting, cooking and chores. As the work participation especially of women accelerates, thanks to education outreach and new far-reaching reforms, couple may have to work in eclectic landscape, sometime far off each other.
In this changing working catchment area, it is inevitable to upkeep the social institution particularly marriage intact. Adoption of high-end application to software, hardware and combined technologies such as ‘Facebook’, ‘Instagram’ and ‘WhatsApp’, have the answer to this conundrum. Through these platforms, couple could interact regularly, not letting overwhelmingly isolation prevail. This enables them to maintain their relationship, though living apart. Further, the mobile internet penetration in rural areas, digital initiatives and the facilities such as video calls with high-speed internet connectivity with 5G, may dramatically reverse this emotional distance.
Economists theorize that marital dissolution, i.e., divorce, primarily occurs due to uncertainty about the gains to marriage and spouse characteristics. On one hand, divorce is socially costly primarily due to the negative effects on children’s welfare and inefficiently low expenditures on children coupled with substantial legal costs. On the other, it reduces domestic violence. Thus, policies which influence the divorce rate should be formulated with care. Studies reveal that unexpected changes in the quality of the match or characteristics of spouses may cause divorce. For example, men who experience unemployment are more likely to divorce. Higher investments in marriage-specific capital (e.g., children, mutual experiences, family traditions) reduce divorce. The greater the costs of divorce (e.g., legal costs, social stigma, costs of searching for a mate), the lower the likelihood of divorce.
On the contrary to the argument of economic theorists, studies reveal that emergence of new social, dating and many such apps have reduced social taboo substantially, and the cost of searching for mate. Through these apps, separated or divorced person could easily find a partner having same interest or characteristics, which may otherwise be unlikely in traditional habitation set-up. Moreover, finding a partner through these apps may not cost much to a person, who tends to be a free rider, that incentives finding a partner through this platform. Hence, post separation, divorced trauma or mental anxieties of person tends to reduce considerably, unfolding myriad opportunities to live a life after being separated/divorced.
Further, modern technology is a significant blow to the patriarchal society, paving way for women empowerment especially the initiatives of women social influencers or you tubers. Traditionally, post separation, women had to undergo an unspeakable trauma as society is reluctant to accept divorced/separated women as human being, forcing them to stay alone in life. But this trend may be retracted through well-regulated social platforms and dating apps, opening up opportunities for interaction or finding new partner for romantic life ambiance. Thus, governments across the world may need to frame policies for facilitating adoption of such high-end technology enabled social media platforms with suitable regulatory checks to promote healthy social relationships.
(Satinder Kumar and Surjith Karthikeyan serve as Deputy Director and Deputy Secretary respectively with the Government of India. The views expressed are personal.)