Thursday, March 18, 2010

You Canna Change The Laws of Physics... er, Economics.

An interesting article appeared on Yeshiva World News today concerning the problem of prospective grooms asking for excessive amounts of money to marry. Many of the young men in Israel who are learning in yeshivos are demanding that their prospective fathers-in-law to buy them an apartment before they will agree to a marriage.

This, of course, leads to some problems. Why? Let's tick off the reasons:

1. Most chareidi families in Israel (which is the segment of the population that we're talking about here) have large families. Since, on average, half of those children are daughters, most families are looking at buying at least three apartments (if not more) for their prospective sons-in-law.

2. Most of these families are barely squeaking by financially. Most chareidi families have lots of kids and spend years paying for private education for those kids, In addition, since secular learning is, for the most part, verboten, many of the ones who are employed are earning wages that are typically found in the unskilled labor market. Yes, there are some who are making it financially -- but those are the exceptions, not the norm.

3. They have educated their daughters that the only "acceptable" choice for a husband is someone who is going to sit and learn for an indefinite time into their marriage. Anything else is substandard and not befitting for a Jewish girl. This message is pounded into their heads by their teachers from the time they are old enough to even think of marriage.

As anyone who has studied a basic economics course knows, there are the concepts known as supply and demand. When there is excess supply and/or little demand for any particular item, the price of the item falls. Likewise, when supply is scarce and/or demand is high, the price of the item will rise. What has happened, very simply, is that over the last thirty years or so, we've increased the demand of a learning groom to the point where, once free market forces take effect, there is a rise in general prices -- not only on the best learners, but even those of lesser capability. As a result, even boys who aren't the best learners are demanding the purchase of an apartment. Lord alone knows what the true best learners* are asking for.

Rav Eliyashiv Kanievsky recently addressed the matter. As the YWN report says:

Rav Chaim Shlita used the opportunity to discuss the trend with young chasanim requesting an apartment before wedding arrangements are even finalized, the weekly BaKehilla reports. The Rav explained that he receives telephone calls from mothers of young girls, explaining they want an apartment and as a result, there cannot be a shidduch since they simply cannot accommodate.

“It has crossed acceptable boundaries. Today, every bachur who learns four or five years believes he has attained a level of worth higher than his father-in-law and therefore, he is entitled to an apartment. We must fight this trend. A fast day must be declared to stop this epidemic”.

The Rav called on roshei yeshiva to combat this trend and to use their influence with talmidim to begin turning this around. He added that at most, one may request half of the cost of an apartment from each side, but that is the limit.

It's good that Rav Eliyashiv Kanievsky is bringing attention to this situation. But a fast is not going to solve the problem. Nor will imposing a price cap of half an apartment. As most people know, price caps generally do not work -- especially in environments where there is no enforcement mechanism. I don't believe that grooms will continue to ask for less. On the contrary, they will continue to ask for more -- until they reach the point where demand is going to fall because not enough people will be able to afford the price. I believe we may be approaching that point very soon. At some point, the fathers are going to rebel and not pay -- if not from anger then from the sheer inability to pay. When that happens, the market will collapse.

Ultimately, it may take Adam Smith's invisible hand to undo the distortions in the dowry market that chareidi society has created over the last thirty years.

The Wolf

* Of course, one could make the argument that the true best learners might also be the best ba'al midos and know what their prospective in-laws can afford. But that's another story for another time.


Anonymous said...

If, as you are saying, the average chareidi family has about half girls and half boys, the average father will spend the same amount on apartments by paying 50% of every apartment as he did paying 100% of only his girls' apartments. It's six of one, half dozen of the other!

Ed said...

Rav Chaim Kanievsky, not Rav Elyashiv

Anonymous said...

In all seriousness, I thought that apartment money is collected door to door in chutz laaretz?

BrooklynWolf said...

Thank you Ed. Corrected.

The Wolf

a muppet said...

I'm afraid that a different economic principle may be at play here, namely the Tragedy of the Commons.

Under normal circumstances, you could imagine a groom working out some sort of arrangement with his father-in-law for support, but considering that the groom knows he's competing against the grooms (or potential grooms) of the father-in-law's other daughters, he's likely to ask for as large of an upfront payment as possible as early as possible. Unlike in a normal market, this may not even out, since the sons-in-law who make reasonable demands will basically just end up leaving more for their brother-in-laws to take. The only solution is for father-in-laws to either stop being a resource in the first place, or gain the skills to at least become a renewable one.

Anonymous said...

It's the catch 22. They don't have the education to get the job to afford rent and the parent's can no longer continue to provide apartments. Now what?

Anonymous said...

In other news, Kupat Ha'ir just announced a major tzedaka campaign to take place in chutz la'aretz. The updated brochure features an announcement by Rav Kanievsky that if you donate money to KH's hachnassas kallah fund, magic stuff will happen to you.

Anonymous said...

Hachnasas kala is such a misnomer. I might choose to donate for a poor bride's wedding reception or trousseau. I feel no obligation to pay for apartments for people who don't work. Heck, I'm still paying my own mortgage.

Michael Koplow said...

The young lady's father meets the chossen for the first time. "How will you take care of my daughter?"

"God will provide."

"How will you pay for your children's education?"

"God will provide."

More questions along those lines.

"God will provide."

Later the father is visiting with a friend, and the friend asks what he thinks of the chossen. The father says, "He's a great guy. He thinks I'm God."

Dave said...

Now what?

Women will be told to dress even more conservatively.

ProfK said...

The concept of "naden" or a dowry is not a new one. However, what is true is that a fixed price dowry has come into vogue in Israel--an apartment. In pre-war Europe wealthy parents gave a larger naden and THEY could consequently cherry pick the better men for their daughters. If a kallah's father had money HE was the yichus, not the bochur. Those with less money gave less. Those with almost no money or no money gave what they had--zero.

Yes, living quarters were frequently part of the marriage deal if a choson was going to get support, what was called "halten a choson off kest." Where was the apartment? Almost without exception that "apartment" was a room in the kallah's parents' house. And it wasn't an unlimited arrangement either. And it wasn't for everyone either. Only the "il'luim" were allowed to remain in kollel. The rest of the bochrim had to have a way of making parnoseh.

The chareidim in Israel are forgetting what their roots are and how things were done.

Zach Kessin said...

There is a wonderful word that I think people need to remember how to use....

NO I will not buy you a house, get a job and buy one for yourself
NO I will not enable you to be a lazy bum by paying all your bills
NO I will not buy you a car, or rolex or enable you to rack up $100,000 in debt with no plans to pay it off

NO its a wonderful word

Anonymous said...

I always thought that a dowry was given by the bride's parents because in exchange, the groom would provide for and take care of the daughter and the children of the marriage. If the groom is not going to provide for his family, what is the dowry being given in exchange for?

Anonymous said...

Doesn't it all even out in the end if the man who gets an apartment from his father in-law later has to buy an apartment for his son-in-law? (assuming the scheme doesn't collapse before the next generation gets their apartments.)

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Part of what deeply disturbs me about all this, is that all these fine young scholars are making a total mockery of the language and intent behind the ketubah and all the other laws requiring that THEY provide for and protect their wives. I, too, benefitted from family largesse to learn a few more years. But never was I allowed to think that I could extort (yes, this sounds like extortion to me) my new family. In fact, I always worked at least part time while learning as a point of principle. So did most of my peers. (Mind you, they also served in the army, paid their taxes, etc.) At the very LEAST, that is what all these fellows should be doing; just to keep them honest.

A previous poster put it well. Fathers should all be saying 'NO'. They should be demanding that the prospective hatanim show how they are good enough for their daughters, starting with integrity and a work ethic. Are these girls really proud to be married to guys with such poor values?

Anonymous said...

Mordechai: It's hard to break out of the system if you think doing so risks your daughter's chances of getting married.

Besides, some of these dads may not be in a position to reject the notion that the best match is a son and law who will sit and learn indefinitely if that is what they did and relied on their in-laws and parents to buy them an apartment.

Anonymous said...

annonymous says "...if you think doing so risks your daughter's chances of getting married. "

i would love to see a post by someone discussing this obsession with getting married by 20, or else. They raise their kids TO GET MARRIED - thats the cannot live a fulfilling, successfull life unless you freakin get married.

ksil lo yavin

G*3 said...

It’s true that price rises with increased demand, but it also falls with increased supply. Given a free market, the rise in demand for “learners” should have been offset by the rise in the number of available guys sitting and learning.

I think this has more to do with social norms than economics.

aaron from L.A. said...

Do you have any idea ow many people are learning in Kolel?...about half of them..

Anonymous said...

The implied or stated threat of "do this my/our way or no shidduchim for you!" is one of today's greatest techniques of social compulsion (AKA refined bullying).