New data from De Beers highlights a trend that should worry some husbands: Women are buying themselves diamonds at an increasing rate. In just over 10 years, the number of women buying themselves non-bridal diamonds increased three-fold. Most surprisingly, more than half of customers are married. Reasons for purchasing the stones (and accompanying jewelry) varied widely. Roughly one in four women said they purchased the diamonds because the price was reasonable, roughly one in five women purchased the diamonds on impulse, and roughly one in ten women purchased the diamonds to mark a “personal milestone.” Most of these women were member of the upper middle class.
None of this is bad per se–women earning more is good for families and though the diamond market is corrupt, it’s nice to have nice things–so why should men care? Because there’s a massive social opportunity cost to having a spouse or partner buy themselves nice things instead of receiving presents.
Buying stuff makes people happy, regardless of what the moralists say. But it limits the degree to which that happiness is shared or serves a social function. Not only does getting someone else a gift provide Tiffany shoppers an intense and lasting blast of pleasure, a phenomenon that has been amply demonstrated by a number of social scientists over the years, gifts can be critical to the health of a marriage. Don’t think for a second that trinkets are some minor thing. Researchers have demonstrated a correlation between the rate of gift giving within a marriage and the rate of divorce.
There’s nothing wrong with women treating themselves, but it is worse–from functional/social perspective–than women’s partners celebrating their myriad achievements. While it’s possible the numbers from De Beers are the result of women making more money courtesy of a shrinking wage gap, it seems likely given the extremity of the trend that it is also illustrative of mass changes in relationship dynamics. If so, that’s bad news. Diamonds may be forever, but modern marriages are not.