With apologies to King Lear

28th August, 2006

Dear Economist,

I am 72 and about to prepare my will. Knowing that some of my daughters have married well, and the other will probably remain single (and therefore be financially disadvantaged in comparison), there seems to be a moral justification to be more generous to the latter. Observing that my unmarried daughter might be more likely to provide assistance to me in my old age, why should I not be more generous to her? I would, in economic terms, be repaying her for services (hopefully to be rendered) which her siblings will probably be either too busy, or too absorbed with their children, to offer. Please give me an economic justification for being more generous to my unmarried daughter.

Tom Holden, Australia

Dear Mr Holden,

Let’s deal with this one point at a time. Divorced women tend to take a financial hit while divorced men tend to be better off than they were when they were married. What does that tell you? You might think that it suggests divorce is bad for women, but it equally suggests that marriage is bad for them. Women must hate being married if they are willing to pay to get divorced. And men must like marriage, since they would be richer if they walked out the door. So don’t feel too sorry for your single daughter: her married sisters are probably praying for a chunk of inheritance so that they can afford to divorce their husbands.

A better justification is your unmarried daughter’s expected contribution to your care in your dotage. Perhaps you should be a bit more explicit about the arrangement: why not offer to pay her by the hour to spend time clearing up after you? To be fair you should also pay the others if they come to visit. This method may produce a hidden benefit: you can switch to a competitive tender on the open market. You may find that your children are not low-cost providers at all.

First published at ft.com

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