I've spent 36 hours on Ghanaian bus trips in the past month, much of it watching Nigerian ("Nollywood") movies. The Cinderella story is a common theme in many of these movies: a poor village girl, or sweet middle-class modern city girl, meets a young African prince, who buys her lots of stuff, defends her from his disapproving parents, and takes her away to live in a palace.
I had an interesting conversation about women, love and money with several male Ghanaian colleagues the other day. All three of them agreed that women, in general, loved men for their money. One of them said that he was glad he married his wife My male American colleague gallantly came to the defense of my gender, and contended that while this might be true for some, it was untrue for most, and it was impossible to "love" anyone for their money anyway. One coworker suggested that American women were less likely to love a man for his money than Ghanaian women.
With Nigerian Cinderella fresh in my mind, wasn't so quick to dismiss the attraction of money, but instead asked what was wrong with that? What we find attractive is influenced by our needs, and what society admires. Marriage has long been an economic union, and ability to provide economically has been necessary to that union, and socially admirable. And it is no more shallow than many of our other criteria for love-- which is a more accurate reflection of character, the looks a person was born with, or the money they earned? (We will put aside the money a person was born with for the moment.)
The major difference between West African women and American women is that for West African women, economic survival is much less assured-- and hence a greater need. If the Cinderella fantasy still limps through American culture, it should be unsurprising to find it prevalent in West Africa, where many women do not have the luxury of discounting their mate's ability to provide economically. If men want women to marry them for attributes other than money, they should do all they can to empower women to provide for themselves, so they will have that freedom.
Also, they should consider their decisions to have multiple wives and mistresses. When being able to provide for multiple women becomes a mark of status, it only reinforces the link between money and relationships. Treat women like people, not objects, and they will treat you as people, not meal tickets.
A friend of mine recently set up an account with stickK to help him quit smoking. Every time he falls of the bandwagon, stickK makes a donation, billed to his credit card, to the Republican National Committee-- a cause my friend thinks is decidedly UNworthy.
While I lauded his ambition to quit smoking, my first reaction to stickK was mixed. With stickK, every time my friend smokes a cigarette, the negative externalities are doubled. (Or not, depending on your political leanings. But you get the idea.) For my friend though, the idea of money being donated to a cause he hates is much more powerful than simply deducting money from his account.
Economists tend to be enamored with finding ways to internalize externalities, that is, shift the burden (or benefit) of a behavior back to the person engaging in that behavior. In some cases, though, knowledge that the externality exists may be sufficient, if the person's propensity for guilt is high enough. Most people don't like to feel like they are burdening others, and they certainly don't want to be seen as causing a burden to others. However, if the negative consequences of an action are completely internalized, the people can justify choices they know aren't welfare maximizing as harming no one but themselves.
As a side note, some of you may be wondering how stickK knows whether my friend smokes or not. StickK itself relies on self-reporting, which is obviously not ideal. However, my friend's boss will be administering weekly drug tests for him, which should be an effective enforcement mechanism, despite being incredibly awkward.
I have worked in economic policy and research in Washington, D.C. and Ghana. My husband and I recently moved to Guyana, where I am working for the Ministry of Finance. I like riding motorcycle, outdoor sports, foreign currencies, capybaras, and having opinions.