History of paternity adjudication

She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer contains some interesting stuff on the history of paternity adjudication:

When faced with paternity disputes, Roman courts relied on the principle of pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant: The father is the one whom marriage points out. A married woman’s children should always be treated as her husband’s children, even if she gave birth a year after his death. In later centuries, judges sometimes followed this principle far beyond what nature could allow. In 1304, a husband who had been away from England for three years came home to find a new child in his house. He went to court to deny being the father. But the judge rejected his case, declaring “the privity between a man and his wife cannot be known.”

Judges were still deciding if children looked like their fathers well into the twentieth century. But the rise of genetics and molecular biology prompted some scientists to wonder if it might be possible to categorically establish kinship, to see the very atoms of heredity that tie families together. One of the first attempts to bring this science to court was made by the actor Charlie Chaplin. In 1942, Chaplin began an affair with an aspiring young actress from Brooklyn named Joan Barry. Chaplin treated her like a toy to be discarded. But when he eventually abandoned Barry, she did not go away quietly. Instead, she smashed the windows of his mansion and broke in one night, armed with a gun, demanding he take her back. By then, Chaplin had already moved on to another affair, this time with a teenager named Oona O’Neill. Barry responded by telling a Hollywood gossip columnist that Chaplin had seduced her and left her pregnant. In June 1943, well into Barry’s pregnancy, her mother filed a civil paternity suit against Chaplin on behalf of her unborn grandchild. She demanded $2,500 a month, plus $10,000 in prenatal costs. Soon, Chaplin was facing not just a civil suit but a criminal one as well. J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, had always found Chaplin a suspicious character; his anti-Nazism seemed to Hoover no different than Communism. Now he relished the opportunity to find some dirt on the actor. In February 1944, Chaplin was charged with violating the Mann Act by transporting Barry across state lines for immoral purposes while she was still a minor. He was also charged with conspiring with Los Angeles police to put Barry in jail for vagrancy. Gawkers and reporters packed a Los Angeles courthouse for the criminal trial, which dredged up lurid details about Chaplin and Barry’s affair. While Chaplin admitted to sleeping with Barry, other men testified that they had been with her during the same period. The jury acquitted Chaplin of all the charges, prompting cheers from around the courthouse. Next came the civil case over Chaplin’s paternity. Between the two trials, Barry had given birth to a girl she named Carol Ann. Chaplin’s lawyers came into court ready to raise the prospect that Carol Ann was the daughter of one of Barry’s lovers who had testified in the criminal case. And then they would present evidence that Carol Ann could not be Chaplin’s daughter, because she had not inherited his genes.

In the months leading up to Chaplin’s civil trial, his lawyers negotiated a deal with Barry’s team. In exchange for $25,000, Barry would agree to have herself and her baby tested for their blood types. If the rules of heredity eliminated Chaplin, she would drop her suit. The tests turned out exactly as Chaplin had hoped. Barry had type A and Carol Ann had type B. Those findings pointed to an inescapable conclusion: Carol Ann’s father, whoever he might be, had to have type B blood. Chaplin was type O. Carol Ann had thus inherited nothing from Chaplin. Yet Barry refused to drop the case. She had gotten a new lawyer, who would not abide by the deal made by her previous ones. Chaplin’s lawyers brought the blood test results to the judge to get the case thrown out of court. But blood type tests were still such a novelty in California that the state offered no legal guidance about their reliability. The judge allowed the case to proceed, and in January 1945, Chaplin was back in court. Throughout the trial, fifteen-month-old Carol Ann sat on her mother’s lap. Barry turned her daughter’s face toward the jury to allow them to gather bald eagle evidence, judging whether she looked like Chaplin or not. “Showing none of the temperament of her mother, Plaintiff Joan Berry [sic], who sobbed on her attorney’s shoulder, or Defendant Chaplin, who shouted his denials, she quietly amused herself by napping, yawning and gurgling,” a reporter for Life wrote. Chaplin’s lawyers countered the bald eagle with blood. They called a doctor to the stand to explain the blood-type results “with charts, diagrams, and elaborate explanations,” as the Associated Press reported. They introduced a report into evidence that included tests from two other doctors, one appointed by Barry’s lawyers and a neutral one. “In accordance with the well accepted laws of heredity,” the doctors declared, “the man, Charles Chaplin, cannot be the father of the child.”

To the jury, Mendel’s Law could apparently be stretched like taffy. They told the judge they were deadlocked, with seven jurors convinced that Chaplin was not the father, and five that he was. Barry’s lawyers filed a second suit. This time, they won, the jury deciding Chaplin was indeed Carol Ann’s father. The decision set off an uproar. “Unless the verdict is upset,” the Boston Herald declared, “California has in effect decided that black is white, two and two are five and up is down.” Nevertheless, Chaplin was ordered to pay $75 a week to support Carol Ann. All told, he would go on to pay her $82,000. The toll that the case took on his reputation was even greater. No one in Hollywood wanted to work with the little tramp anymore. Chaplin left Hollywood for good.

Adjusting for inflation, $82,000 in 1945 is about $1.2 million today (i.e., today’s plaintiffs can do a lot better under current California family law).

Looking at heredity across multiple generations there are some surprising results:

The geometry of this heredity has long fascinated mathematicians, and in 1999 a Yale mathematician named Joseph Chang created the first statistical model of it. He found that it has an astonishing property. If you go back far enough in the history of a human population, you reach a point in time when all the individuals who have any descendants among living people are ancestors of all living people.

When Chang developed his model in 1999, geneticists couldn’t compare it to reality. They didn’t know enough about the human genome to even guess. By 2013, they had gained the technology they needed. [Graham] Coop and his colleague Peter Ralph, a statistician at the University of Southern California, set out to estimate how living Europeans are related to people who lived on the continent hundreds or thousands of years ago. They looked at a database of genetic variants collected across Europe from 2,257 living people. They were able to match identical stretches of DNA in different people’s genomes, which they inherited from a common ancestor. Ralph and Coop identified 1.9 million chunks shared by at least two of the 2,257 people. Some of the chunks were long, meaning they came from recent common ancestors. Others were short, coming from deeper in the past. By analyzing the chunks, Coop and Ralph confirmed Chang’s study, but they also enriched it. They found, for example, that people in Turkey and England shared many fairly big chunks of DNA that they must have inherited from a common ancestor who lived less than a thousand years ago. It was statistically impossible for a single ancestor to have provided them all with all those chunks. Instead, living Europeans must have gotten them from many ancestors. In fact, the only way to account for all the shared chunks Coop and Ralph found was with Chang’s model. Everyone alive a thousand years ago who has any descendants today is an ancestor of every living person of European descent. Even further back in time, Chang and his colleagues have found, the bigger the ancestral circle becomes. Everyone who was alive five thousand years ago who has any living descendants is an ancestor of everyone alive today.

Presumably the rulers of 5,000 years ago were the ones who had the most children and therefore are most likely to have living descendants in 2019. We can thus all claim to have royal blood?

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Statistics-informed approach to marriage goes awry

A story of math and romance… “Local professor says he lost $50,000 after being deceived by a Russian mail order bride” (WMAR, Baltimore):

Dr. Jonathan Farley met his wife through a Russian online dating site. He was after true love, but he believes his wife was after a Green Card and his money. He estimates he lost close to $50,000.

Farley, an accomplished mathematician, looked at finding love like a statistics problem.

“There are 10 million more women than men in Russia,” said Farley.

He liked his odds, so he traveled to Siberia where he met a woman in an unconventional way.

The website delivered a match. She was 20, he was 42.

Within two weeks of getting married, Farley said his wife’s behavior completely changed.

Perhaps the problem is that he didn’t work from complete data? Wikipedia does not show that dramatically more 20-year-old Russians identify as female compared to the number who identify as male.

I wonder if this being featured by a TV station shows Americans’ fascination with Russian villains. “America, Home of the Transactional Marriage” (Atlantic) suggests that more Americans get married for the cash than do folks in other countries (in a lot of other countries, it is almost impossible to turn a substantial profit on a past sexual relationship).


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Division of labor in the home (woman complains about her husband in the NYT)

“What ‘Good’ Dads Get Away With” (NYT) is subtitled “Division of labor in the home is one of the most important equity issues of our time. Yet at this rate it will be another 75 years before men do half the work.”

(In other articles, the NYT assures us that 75 years from now every coastal city on Planet Earth will be under water. Will people care about gender-based division of labor then?)

The author, who seems to identify as a woman, complains about her spouse, who may identify as a man:

When my husband and I became parents a decade ago, we were not prepared for the ways in which sexism was about to express itself in our relationship. Like me, he was enthralled by our daughters. Like him, I worked outside the home. And yet I was the one who found myself in charge of managing the details of our children’s lives.

I would love to find out what this man (if, indeed, he still identifies as one) thinks about the wife broadcasting his deficiencies as a partner!

[Separately, if living with a man is such a raw deal for a woman, why do any of them continue in the arrangement? Every jurisdiction in the U.S. offers no-fault on-demand divorce (though the cash profits may vary enormously from state to state). There is no social stigma for the woman who sues her husband. In the 50/50 shared parenting jurisdictions, she will be on track to be free of any child-related duties every other week. Does it make sense to say that male-female partnership is nearly always a raw deal for women if roughly 50 percent of them choose to continue in such partnerships?]

As usual, the reader comments are the most interesting feature. Example:

Samantha Kelly: Women are a long way from parity in most homes with two working parents. Considering our overpopulation, and that parenting is often a “baby trap” for women, consider not having children. It is a decision of remarkable freedom!

Sophie K: The answer to this – women have to become more selfish. Don’t volunteer for unrewarding projects at work (it blows my mind to hear that women do – who are these women and why are they doing this??). Don’t “mother” men in your life. Don’t be always ready to pick up the slack when they “fail”. Men are neither stupid nor incompetent. They’re just pushing the envelope to see what they can get away with. … Be selfish, ladies. You’d be surprised how well things will be turning out for you. Men have been like that forever.

David: This is in part why birth rates are declining in western world. Work demands have increased dramatically and the family has shrunk and government support has disappeared so that all the child rearing falls exclusively to the parents. On top of this, expectations in US to focus all available non workimg time on children makes for a miserable existence. Argue all you want over who is doing more, it’s the overall demands of current society that create this dynamic.

gizmos: Like Dr. Lockman and apparently many other readers, I bought into the false narrative that men don’t contribute to the household equally and haven’t done so in years. I did a lot of research into the topic for a project and found out the opposite is true. Time use studies from the 60s till date show that men consistently have contributed more total work hours than women, when including paid and unpaid work. Women consistently have greater leisure time after including the hours spent in childcare, housework and paid work.

HS: I would love if just once this type of article included gay couples with kids. My wife and I have a division of labor in our home that largely replicates our heterosexual parents. She works and I stay home with the kids and take care of the majority of household chores and kid stuff. And yes, I know my contribution counts as “work” too. There’s no resentment on either side in part bc we each think the other has the harder job. Maybe too bc we are both women. There’s none of that gendered expectation of who does what; it seems more freely chosen and thus more acceptable to us both. [i.e., Everything is Super When You’re Gay]

HH: I’m a gay man whose social circle is mostly comprised of other gay men, as is, obviously, my primary romantic relationship. All of the phenomenon the author describes exist in my relationship or those in my periphery. … If modern feminism is actually interested in honest conclusions about what is actually a gender bias and what is just a naturally occurring difference between people then a lot more attention should be paid to the parallel world of gay men. [Attention must be paid!]

JD: I would direct Lockman’s attention to Edith Wharton’s portrait of Lily Bart’s father in “The House of Mirth.” The man visibly ages and sags in Lily’s eyes before he passes, because of the stress of trudging to Wall Street every day in order to sustain his wife and daughter’s lives of leisure and to maintain the family’s membership in a certain social orbit dominated by Knickerbockers.

KBronson: The women are going to live ten years longer. They will catch up on rest later.

BackHandSpin: And yet, women continue to choose and show their approval for these types of men in the dating world. No matter what women say. To display (i.e.)”child nurturing” and “caring” ( being respectful) qualities is the opposite of what women are attracted to ( status,manliness,power,money) in the dating world. There’s your problem. Millions of “macho jerks” have a faithful woman standing by his side . [Statistically, the “faithful” part is questionable!]

Carling: “He comes in from work and the first thing he does is brush his teeth!” “His teeth, not mine!

Observer of the Zeitgeist: Unless things are radically different from how they were 8 years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics under President Obama certified back then that men and women are putting in equal time to making households run. In fact, men are putting in few minute more time per day. That means what needs to be examined more is psychology, not economics or sociology. Quite a few women, like this author, feel like men are not doing enough.

Benjo: Get your kids to take care of themselves and stop being a helicopter parent. You aren’t doing them or yourself any favors by micromanaging them.

Patricia: This is news?? I knew this in 1976 which is why I refused to have children. I have never regretted it.

Tanya Miller: I’m 51 so it doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but from here on out when my friends and family ask wonderingly if I ever wanted to/will get married and have children, I won’t bother answering – I’ll just email them a link to this comments page.

Denise A: This article presents women as naturally executing more leadership than men. Women get it done. Women get it done early and often. These women people, these detailed oriented, never let things slide, go getters are presented as top performers in running complex organizations called Families. Wouldn’t we expect that these would be the most qualified people to run our companies and countries? Aren’t the qualities presented here exactly what are necessary to win in capitalist markets?

Andrea: Most American men I have met, my friends’ ex-husbands, my own ex-husbands, their male friends, are simply impossible. Each and every one of them has a huge sense of entitlement and a gargantuan ego, and housework and taking care of the kids just doesn’t fit into the their sense of destiny.

Ralph Petrillo: Actually a major change has occurred due to cell phones in the last five years.which is causing men to actually do more of the work then women. Shocking but women are addicted to their cell phones and this has caused a major deterioration in the household by both gender groups. … It is also a major deterioration in couples wanting to fully comprehend their responsibilities for they get an impulse to search for their cell instead of communicating in a more traditional manner. … It is time to realize that couples are more married to their devices then each other.

Susan: In 75 years, robots will do most of the house work, so it likely won’t ever be necessary for men to reach parity in household tasks.

Single mom: Long term romantic relationship that involves co-habiting of any kind with men is highly overrated. Traditional marriage is not worth the effort for women. It was supposed to provide physical and financial security for women. But that is not a requirement for many women across the world anymore. … Women-only community living would provide support and security. We should take our cues from the wise female-only elephants.

Cary: I came to read this material expecting the usual bashing of men. But I’m pleased to find some variety: the bashing is of straight men.

elained: This article explains why single women have children on their own [women who plan this can get another 2 million reasons per child]. When you’re going to have to do it all anyway, why also deal with an exploitive, forgetful, self-centered slacker into the bargain? Women spend a GREAT DEAL of time valuing and praising men, just to keep them halfway in the game. It just is not worth it. Maybe evolution will deal them out of existence. [see this book on genetics for how somatic cells from two women can be combined to make a new human with no father]

Sarah: Being raised by two mothers and liking men, I am honestly very scared of heterosexual marriage. It just seems so much less functional than the homelife I was raised in.

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Income and virginity among Japanese men

“About 1 in 4 Japanese adults in their 20s and 30s are virgins, says study” (CNN) started a bit of discussion among some of my (married high-income guy) friends. They highlighted

‘Money talks’
The report found that a higher percentage of men on lower incomes remained sexually inexperienced compared to women.
“Although the discussion around cause and effect becomes very complex when considering who becomes sexually experienced and who remains a virgin, we show that heterosexual inexperience is at least partly a socioeconomic issue for men. Simply put, money talks,” said Cyrus Ghaznavi, the lead author of the study.


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Fatherhood of a child born after divorce in Massachusetts

A friend’s son got a call the other day from the woman who’d divorced him a year earlier (wedding planning and uncontested divorce legal proceedings combined lasted far longer than the marriage itself). She had found a higher-income sex partner at some point during the brief marriage and it seems that she’d given birth to a child 13 months after a divorce agreement was approved by a judge (this kind of divorce-by-agreement rather than actual litigation happens about 17 percent of time in the county that we sampled within Massachusetts (statistical study for Middlesex)).

The divorce didn’t become final until 120 days following the approval by the judge and Massachusetts presumes that a child born within 300 days of the technical end of a marriage is the responsibility of the ex-husband. A birth certificate application with the new husband’s name on it as the father had been rejected (tough to believe that all of these town and county record-keeping systems are linked!).

The new mom wanted her discarded former husband to sign an Affidavit of Nonpaternity. The situation turns out to be sufficiently common that there is a standard form.

(It wouldn’t have made great financial sense for her to try to collect 23 years of child support from this guy given his low-ish income and the fact that a DNA test might get him off the hook, but marrying the lover/biological father and collecting from the ex-husband can work; see “Post-Divorce Litigation” for a link to a NY Times article about an example situation:

“I pay child support to a biologically intact family,” Mike told me, his voice cracking with incredulity. “A father and mother, married, who live with their own child. And I pay support for that child. How ridiculous is that?”



  • Q&A on this topic with answer from lawyer: “You, as the bio-dad, have no rights if legally the child has another father. … If his rights are not terminated, you can file for child support and he must pay it.”
  • discussion forum thread, in which a responder asks the new sex partner of the divorce plaintiff: “Just to toss this out there; are you 100% [sure] this is your child?” (also provides some insight into how long it may take to litigate a no-fault divorce in Massachusetts: “My GF and myself have been together for 4 years, and now have a baby together. However she is in the process of getting Divorced but its not final yet.”)
  • relevant statute

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The 49-year-old father and the au pair

From an au pair host family group…

40-year-old mother of three: “Just wanted to give an update/get some advice on my ex-sleeping-with-the-now-former-au-pair saga. She left the US at the end of her travel month around Labor Day. It has come to my attention that the two of them are still in a relationship (he’s 49 and she is 20. Gross). Exhibit A below (try to ignore the fact it’s like it was written by an eighth grader), plus witnesses have put her back in our town as recently as 10 days ago.

Insert photo of handwritten (beautifully) letter: “… I love being with you … I never thought this year would turn out like this … I really hope & wish we have an amazing future ahead of us together. … I’m really going to miss your snuggles.”

[Inquiring minds want to know: how many American eighth graders can write legibly in a foreign language? And what exactly is “gross”? The 20-year-old woman’s body is “gross”? She looks okay in a linked-to Facebook profile (if you don’t mind the tall slender well-proportioned Northern European blonde look). Or the 49-year-old man’s body is “gross”? (If so, why was the 40-year-old mother sharing a bed with this “gross” body?)]

The other au pair host moms pile in with advice:

now going after him in the divorce with this as proof I would totally do. Send to your lawyer and start a file

Agree about divorce files

It’s got to be the saddest midlife crisis ever. Sleezy guys the world over fall for someone new… but look at how this girl writes. [maybe the non-native speaker would be able to spell “sleazy” correctly, though?] What kind of emotional connection could a middle aged man have with her? Can’t even have a mildly stimulating conversation over a glass of wine. She’s too stupid regardless of her age.

He’s a disgusting pig and she’s a horrible person. … I would inform future APs about his gross and inappropriate behavior.

[Nobody questions the inferiority of the 20-year-old’s emotions! But isn’t it more likely that older people are the ones with inferior emotions? Older people are more likely to be thinking about how to get the dishwasher or boiler fixed than about how to phrase a heartfelt poem.]

A (woke) male:

Taking as many of the ex-hubby’s assets along with being alone to think about how he ruined a great family situation for a fling is perhaps the start of just punishment.

[But the 49-year-old is apparently not alone, thus the dust-up.]

The females continue responding…

Take all of his money and don’t lose stamina!

… falling for the babysitter? It’s cliche and pathetic.

… No question. This is disgusting.

That’s double gross.

What a disgusting pig he is and what a poor excuse for a woman she is.

[But the 40-year-old previously tapped into this high-income guy, presumably using her youth to out-compete women who are now 49 and older. If the 20-year-old out-competing the 40-year-old is “disgusting” and “gross” why was it not gross for the 40-year-old to out-compete the 49-year-olds?]

A fellow mom thinking ahead:

She’ll get burned too bc this is all about him. Hopefully before she gets knocked up so [mama’s] kids don’t have to share their child support.

The above shows how little Americans understand about their own family law system. The mom concerned about child support revenue is correct that a European who has sex in the U.S. can cash checks over in Europe (see “Child Support Litigation without a Marriage”). But generally the first plaintiff to sue is invulnerable to attacks from successor plaintiffs, i.e., a court order in favor of a first plaintiff won’t be reduced because a second plaintiff comes along. New York has one of the simplest systems:

As with other states, children of the same parent will have different cash values depending on the sequence in which that parent has been sued for child support. The co-parent of the first child is entitled to 17 percent of the defendant’s income. The co-parent of the second child is entitled to only 17 percent of the remaining 83 percent. The co-parent of the third child is entitled to only 17 percent of the remaining 69 percent.


Sorry you’re going through this, mama. A total nightmare for sure.

[The word “mama” becomes a title for one adult woman to address another by.]

Readers: Why the outrage over the au pair’s age? The folks in this discussion don’t seem to question the merits of a no-fault divorce system. The au pair was over the age of consent in every state. Either partner in a U.S. marriage is free to abandon the union if a preferred sex partner is identified and/or on payment of cash. Why does the situation become “gross” and “disgusting” and merit larger cash payments if a new partner happens to be 20 years old?


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Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos talk about how much they value each other…

… but show that they don’t value marriage per se?

The jointly signed tweet from the soon-to-be-divorced Amazon founder and wife is full of mutual praise. These two people say that they’re friends, so presumably they like each other. Mr. Bezos earned more than $130 billion that the two friends could spend during their years together, for which they say they are both “grateful.”

The situation in which they found themselves, thus, was one where they had near-infinite spending power and were free of any forced disagreeable associations.

They’re not divorcing because they were miserable, in short, due to poverty or arguing. They’re divorcing because one or both believe that yet greater life enjoyment can be achieved without the encumbrance of marriage to the other.

Doesn’t that make their commitment to marriage contingent on “until I can find something at least slightly better”?

If someone says “I love my Honda Odyssey, but the new Sienna has an extra cupholder so I am trading in the Honda,” you wouldn’t consider that person an example of brand loyalty.

A woman in our home suburb said that she was divorcing her husband because he was abusive and addicted to alcohol and/or drugs (not so bad that he couldn’t go to work every day!). So she showed that she was committed to the idea of marriage, but had to escape this particular intolerable situation for the safety of her four children (who would, after she pulled the ripcord, be guaranteed to spend 4/14 nights completely unsupervised with the addict). [Once the cash was flowing, though, it turned out that when she was busy with Tinder dates the addict was the go-to babysitter for the brood of four.]

Readers: What do you think? Does the act of talking up the value of the to-be-ex have the effect of talking down the value of permanent marriage? (And what does “marriage” mean in a jurisdiction offering no-fault on-demand divorce?)


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“Marriage and alimony are acceptable, but being single and letting a guy give you things is not”

“How to Date a Lot of Billionaires” (nytimes, 11/10/2018):

The Matharoo sisters never intended to become a cautionary tale about the perils of social media influence. They were born and raised in Toronto, by middle-class parents who had immigrated from India. The sisters’ lives changed abruptly 10 years ago, when Jyoti, fresh out of college, met a Nigerian petroleum magnate.

“He’s not a rapper with expensive watches,” said Jyoti. “It’s generations and generations of money.”

He flew both sisters on private jets to France and Greece and eventually to Nigeria, a destination they did not disclose to their strict parents. Upon landing, a convoy of Mercedes-Benz G-Class S.U.V.s drove them to his home, a heavily marbled mansion with a pool and a litany of servants. Kiran lazed away poolside while Jyoti accompanied her lover to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to play polo with a prince.

“It all happened so fast,” Jyoti said. “There wasn’t even a moment for us to be like, ‘Is this really happening?’”

Within a few months, she said, he bought her a condominium in Toronto and began giving her a monthly $10,000 stipend so she would not have to work.

This affair was not to be a forever love, though. Over the years, the sisters globe-trotted with a succession of paramours. In particular, both sisters traveled frequently to Nigeria and said that dating wealthy men there was easy. “Once they find out you have a sister, it’s over,” Kiran said. “We don’t find them. They find us.”

Neither would say exactly how many billionaires they had dated. “If you say more than one, you’re automatically considered a gold digger,” said Jyoti, though she admitted that the number is higher than one. “I’m attracted by the power of who they are, what they do and what position they are on the Forbes billionaire list.”

In the explicitly amoral societies of the U.S. and Canada, others would like to adopt this lifestyle:

The Matharoos also said they have been inundated with messages from women asking for guidance on finding a billionaire sugar daddy. “Surely you can shed some tips on how to become a kept woman who is still doing her thing,” read a typical message sent to Kiran’s Snapcha[t].

(The Times journalist and editors helpfully include some of the sisters’ best tips in the article.)

Yet a U.S. government agent suggests disapproval:

Recently Jyoti arrived at the Toronto airport with a plane ticket to Houston, only to find herself interrogated by United States customs officials.

“They were grilling me, like, ‘So, are you a prostitute? When was the last time you had a boyfriend,’” she said. “I said, ‘I didn’t know being single was a crime.’ I was so mad. Then I started crying.”

One sister correctly points out that a quickie marriage to a high-income target, followed by a family court-ordered cash stream, and/or getting pregnant and harvesting profitable child support (or selling the abortion; Canada offers unlimited child support and legal abortion, therefore lending itself nicely to this means of earning a living), wouldn’t lead to any uncomfortable questions at the border:

“Marriage and alimony are acceptable, but being single and letting a guy give you things is not,” Jyoti said. “You have to own it. I don’t feel like I’m a piece of property.”


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American’s gender wage gap and low GDP growth can be partially explained by no-fault divorce laws?

Hillary Clinton seems to be riding all the way to the White House on a platform of female victimhood, at the center of which is data showing that American women, on average, earn less than American men. (Though in our transgender age, it is unclear if this distinction is meaningful. How do we know that “men” who responded to a wage survey in 2015 continue to identify as men?)

In a previous posting I questioned whether W-2 earnings was the right way to look at the economics of gender equality. If Americans who identify as “female” can spend and/or consume more than Americans who identify as “male,” then wouldn’t we say that women were actually doing better than men economically?

Alessandra Voena, a professor at the University of Chicago, took a deeper look at this and wrote up her results in “Divorce laws and the economic behavior of married couples.” Here are some excerpts:

Household survey data from the United States shows that the introduction of unilateral divorce in states that imposed an equal division of property is associated with higher household savings and lower female employment rates among couples that are already married.

During the 1970s and 1980s, divorce laws were rewritten around the United States. Until then, mutual consent—the consent of both spouses—was often a requirement and upon divorce, property was assigned to the spouse who held the formal title to it; usually, this was the husband.

Then, profound state-level reforms brought about the so-called “unilateral divorce revolution.” Most couples now entered a legal system in which either spouse could obtain a divorce without the consent of the other and also keep a fraction of the marital assets, often close to fifty percent.

… forty percent of married couples and about one-third of all people over their lifetimes are divorced.

… a property division regime change that favors one spouse can improve her position inside the marriage, particularly if she can obtain divorce without the other partner’s consent.

… in such states [providing no-fault divorce plus 50/50 property division], women who were already married became less likely to work, by approximately 5 percentage points. By analyzing additional time use surveys between 1965 and 1993, I find that the decrease in the labor supply of women was associated with an increase in the amount of leisure time they enjoyed.

In states with equal division of property, the law favors women at the time of divorce. When the equal division of property grants them more resources in the event of divorce than they are receiving in the marriage, unilateral divorce means that they can use the threat of divorce in their favor while remaining married, thereby increasing their leisure.

As was the conclusion of the economics research behind The Redistribution Recession, it seems that Americans respond eagerly to any system that permits spending/consumption without working.

When a substantial percentage of women can spend without working, either because they use the threat of divorce to enjoy a life of leisure while married or because they use the machinery of divorce litigation to collect property, alimony, and child support, that is going to widen the gender earnings gap. Consider Jessica Kosow, whose successful litigation after a four-year marriage is described in this chapter on Massachusetts family law. She receives roughly 3.2X what her average Ivy League classmates earn. Suppose that she gets bored sitting at home and takes a $15/hour job at a non-profit organization to supplement her $250,000/year after-tax divorce and child support revenues. Now she is exacerbating the gender gap statistics due to earning far less from wages than her male University of Pennsylvania classmates. The same would be true for any woman who is collecting a share of the earnings of a current or former spouse. She can have comparatively high spending power while choosing a job that pays less but is either more convenient or more enjoyable. “Convenience” and “fun” are not well captured in statistical studies of wages. Finally, consider that most states’ family law encourages women who are successful alimony plaintiffs to withdraw from the workforce (if they earn money their “need” for alimony is reduced and their payments may be reduced). Not every state routinely provides lifetime alimony, however. If a woman returns to the workforce after decades of leisure she won’t command as high a wage as man with a multi-decade track record of work experience.

(A professor at the American Economics Association convention offered a simpler, but consistent with Professor Voena’s results, response to the gender earnings gap: “Why would you work 9-5 if you could get paid for having sex or having children?”)

Professor Voena’s CV reveals an Italian background, a country that conforms to Civil Law (see the sections on family law in Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland for how this is different from our Common Law system). It may be this background that leads her to suggest “cheap and enforceable prenuptial agreements” as a change to the family law systems in most U.S. states. According to the litigators that we interviewed for Real World Divorce, however, prenuptial agreements in the U.S. can never be either cheap or enforceable with certainty. Quite a few couples spend more than $100,000 in legal fees simply arguing over the validity or meaning of a prenuptial agreement that itself may have cost $10,000+ to draft. In a Civil Law jurisdiction the drafting cost could be $0 (check a box on a form at the time of marriage) and the litigation cost would also be $0 (since it is a state-provided agreement). [Note that a motivated plaintiff can still litigate the validity of a German prenuptial agreement by obtaining venue in a Common Law country. See Nicolas Granatino’s attempt to get extra cash out of Katrin Radmacher by challenging a German prenup in a London court. He ultimately failed (Guardian), but it ran up a spectacular legal bill for Ms. Radmacher and he still earned a lot more from having sex with a rich woman than he could have from waged labor (the lawyers also kept earning; the litigation continued in 2011, five years after the couple separated). Mr. Granatino’s behavior is also consistent with what Professor Voena found among American women. Mr. Granatino had a high-paying presumably not-very-fun job at JP Morgan. Once he had a high-income spouse and the possibility of a high-revenue divorce lawsuit, he quit to amuse himself in graduate school.]

Given that it is the public versus a $50 billion industry it seems safe to assume that the U.S. family law system won’t change substantially. Thus we can expect the “wage gap” to be an evergreen issue for politicians such as Hillary Clinton and also, when we combine family law with the other ways that Americans can get money without working, we can expect continued sluggish growth in GDP-per-capita.


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