A Thought Experiment

Two scenarios:

I’m a man about to marry a woman with a net worth of zero, and I currently have a net worth of 50,000, the source of which was my wages in my upper-middle class job, placed into a Vanguard fund. I ask my fiancee to sign a prenuptial agreement to protect these assets. She is hesitant, and our social group finds out about this.

I’m a man about to marry a woman with a net worth of zero, and I currently have a net worth of 5,000,000, the source of which was an inheritance. I ask my fiancee to sign a prenuptial agreement to protect these assets. She is hesitant, and our social group finds out about this.

Under which scenario will the man receive greater support from his social group, and why? I asked this question in the SSC open thread and got numerous replies, most of which agreed with my prior that the second scenario would receive greater sympathy. A common argument was that 5 million is more than 50 thousand, so of course you should care about the latter case more. But hopes, dream, expectations, and fears rise with income: if a hurricane were headed toward your city it’s reasonable to expect the poor man to be just as worried about losing his 50,000 shack as the rich man is about losing his 5,000,000 mansion. I think the most compelling explanation for this is simple deference to elites. You see in both case that the man in question doesn’t fully trust his fiancee. Both aren’t fully living up to our culture’s ideals of marriage. But the latter seems a case of forgivable human weakness; the former seems a rather pathetic specimen, one who ought not be getting married at all.

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