Dear Economist

What’s a girl to focus on – looks or brains?

Dear Economist,
My 15-year-old is disinclined to work for her GCSEs, saying her time is better spent preening herself in preparation for assignations with her delightful, diligent, privately educated, moneyed boyfriend. She insists the money spent on nail-painting, hair-colouring and the like is an investment and will be more than repaid when he marries her. Is she deluding herself?
A curious mother

Dear Curious Mother,

Surprising as this may seem in the 21st century, your daughter’s strategy is not unusual. Evidence on speed-dating gathered by the economists Michèle Belot and Marco Francesconi shows that women are attracted by rich men, while men focus more on a woman’s physical appearance. Lena Edlund, another economist, has found that in the areas of her native Sweden where the wealthiest men live, women of prime marriageable age are over-represented.

However, your daughter is only 15; for Edlund, “prime marriageable age” is 25-44. Your daughter is either going to have to get her hooks into this chap unusually early, or she is going to have to keep him on the boil for another decade – a lot of nail-painting.

Not only is she concentrating her investments into a single asset by abandoning her education, but she may even be making her main goal harder to achieve. Belot and Francesconi discovered that a strong social trend towards “assortative mating” means that although educated, high-achieving men are not interested in marrying a rich woman, they do like educated high-achieving women, rather than shallow girls with shiny nails.

Your daughter should learn to work hard and look good at the same time. Not only will it advance her immediate goals, it will also – sadly – stand her in good stead for the rest of her life.

Also published at ft.com.

25th of July, 2009Dear Economist • Comments off