We present a model of courtship in which the timing of marriage is affected by the cognitive dissonance between perceived norms and personal aims.We argue that as long as the family has been the main provider of social protection, marriage has been favoured by strongly felt social norms, and thus people accepted less-than-ideal partners early on in their search in order to minimise the dissonance caused by the non-adherence to the custom. Once the Welfare state has replaced the family, these norms have lost their strength, so that agents can afford the luxury of searching their preferred partners at length without feeling at odds with their social duties. The model yields predictions in line with relevant stylised facts: the raising age of marriage, the prevalence of assortative mating and the common occurrence of divorce in the early years of marriage. We finally discuss the impact of late marriages on fertility, and argue that there need not be negative consequences if the declining role of the family becomes socially accepted, and alternative arrangements are made possible and indeed encouraged by means of an appropriate family policy.
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