Would You Take Marital Advice From an Economist?

Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, authors of the new book Spousonomics, are seeking marital advice from economists on their blog. Their “Economists in Love” series asks amusing (yet pragmatic) questions such as “Which is a better way to divide the housework: 50/50 or?comparative?advantage?” and “Is your marriage a repeated game? And if so, what kinds of things have you learned with each iteration?” First up on the advice roster was our own Dan Hamermesh. Game theorist Jeff Ely has also weighed in. [%comments]

Eric M. Jones

12 Steps to Relationship Wisdom:

1) Choose women who have good credit references. If the banks think they are credit-worthy and will loan them money, they are probably pretty good women. Ask for a copy of their credit report-but never on the first date.

2) Choose happy women. Despondent women eventually depress everyone around them including you. You can't make them happy no matter what.

3) Stay away from strange women. Though they may seem exotic at first, strange women eventually become a pain in the ass and you can't even sell them to somebody else. Stick with the standard issue product.

4) Never date a woman who owns either a dog or a bird unless you like walking her dog and talking to her bird. Trust me on this one.

5) Women who look like they are good in bed usually are good in bed. (Some other women are very good but just don't advertise.)

6) Never give a crummy relationship a second chance. If it seems to be going bad early on, it will never get any better. Corollary: most passionate relationships suffer one additional bounce after they crash. Life is too short to make the same mistake twice.

7) All relationships are good for fifteen minutes.

8) Remember...women choose men, not the other way around-but most men can't read the signals, and most women don't know that. The women get pissed-off.

9) Her kids will introduce you to the fact that you are powerless.

10) The safest bet is that the way they are dressed and made-up when you meet them is as good as they will ever look.

11) If you meet a woman in the bus station after midnight who ask you, "Is this Hollywood?", Tell her you're a film director and don't give her your real name.

12) Understand that as time goes on, the good women who are capable of being in a relationship are removed from the available inventory. If you meet a sweet, sexy, honest, caring, available woman, ask yourself-"What's wrong with this picture?...."



What a terrible idea... using the dismal science to make a happy marriage!

What qualifies economists to give marital advice? Is there any evidence that economists have happier marriages than other people?

Katie Cunningham


You can switch the sexes on your tips. They still work (and don't sound as misogynist.)

As for number twelve, it's also worth considering that a lot of good women also go through divorce, hence making them available again later in life.

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

Is it better to be a polygamist married to 4 wives simultaneously or a serial monogamist who marries and divorces and marries and divorces like some existential game of musical chairs?

I remember a Nobel Laureate in Economics who had to sacrifice half of his prize money to his former wife because of a clause in his divorce which foresaw such a possibility.

He was a farsighted world class financial forecaster but he could not see the divorce coming like a jack boot aimed squarely at the solarplexus.


I wouldn't take economic advice from an economist.


An old saw: An economist is somebody who'd marry Megan Fox for her money.

Natalie Dressed

I found point # 12 poignant--I'm widowed, my first wife was beautiful, but didn't do well in college, barely was graduated. We were friends after college, and 4 years later she asked me out on a date, and I fell in love. Markets priced her inefficiently because they looked at her GPA and not her wisdom. For me, those were Halcyon days, three years of a wonderful marriage.

After she was gone, I was disconsolate, and articulated point 12. All the women I admired and respected were married, and it didn't seem ethical to root for a plane crash.

We built a playground in honor of my deceased wife, and I met a young woman who didn't mind getting dirty filling holes with soil, sand, and cement. I ended up marrying her. Anyone who would get dirty to help someone they had only met once, that spoke to me.

I told all my friends that finding my new wife was like finding a diamond on the sidwewalk; I couldn't figure why, at the age of 27, no one else wanted her. She turns 40 this year and I am glad markets are not always "efficient".
I'd like to think it was because I have some skill at choosing great women, but that would be pure vanity on my part. I got lucky--twice.


Regina Woolley

I wouldn't take any advice from an economist. Economists believe the world operates on the basis of all kinds of simplified, untrue assumptions.

Oopsy Daisy

I get ferociously angry at weddings. I don't know if it's because I hate that the guy is so stupid as to throw away his freedom for what is so often fleeting feelings of romance...or if it's because I know the woman will wreck the life of the poor boy at some point by nagging him to death.

Of course my own marriage is one of sheer bliss.


This is a really interesting idea when viewing marriage, yet controversy on this topic seems to arise. What I am wondering, does this application of economics take place before or during the marriage?

If people start to view marriage as a union of getting things done more efficiently, rather than basing their marriage on love, marriage is going to be based on a system, where we are matched to whom we seem to fit in.

Because this idea seems reasonable when not analyzed at depth, many people will now start relying on economists to determine how the union of two people should function. This will lead to an increase in economists expanding their services beyond company matters. Economists will now be serving for the benefit of households and possibly, even specialize in this type of economic study.

People are now becoming aware of this possibility, therefore demand for "marriage economists" will increase. Although I am speaking hypothetically, on the long run people might have inelastic demand for this service, because it might be essential in order for a marriage to work.

Although this is all determined by whether this idea captures the attention of possible consumers, and may I say that this might become a reliable choice if it brings positive results, and this is due to the fact that there have been an increase in divorces in the United States, so people will now be more willing to seek a different perspective on how the marriage could work.



Reading the Spousonomics site is very depressing. There you can see that the couple are typical middle-aged bored and boring folks who have settled into a "business partner without benefits" mode.

Looking at the Venn diagram of what she now wants in a marriage - a big bed so she doesn't have to cuddle, lots' of solitary time and no common hobbies so she doesn't actually have to be involved with him - makes you wonder why they don't just incorporate a business and move out, on to find people they really *like*.

No, I would not take marital advice from such joyless people. But I'm sure their "spousal enterprise" will make them a fair amount of cash. Which is all she seems to care about.

I guess this is basic evolutionary sociology: all she cares about is the steady stream of cash from him, and he can beg for sex. Or not. Whatever.

David Chowes, New York City

Economists and psyhotherapists and marital counselors and cleaning people and CEO's and porters...

Are all equally unqualified to give marital advise though creditals suggest greater knowledge...

That, in reality doesn't exist.

Maybe, try your Grandmother!

Jacques René Giguere

To Katie #3 Yes a lot a good women ( and good men) got dumped by losers. But why did they choose them?

Jacques René Giguere


It's about maximizing utility, and you could start with a thoughtful discussion with yourself by asking: What's truly important.

I took a different approach and got to an answer via reverse engineering. Years ago I realized that quite a few of the spouses of friends were attractive and interesting despite being dramatically different from my 'ideal'. When I eventually figured out what part of their DNA made them so compelling, my definition of "ideal" and the resulting self assessment changed my life forever.

A couple years later I married. The beginning of #29 is a few weeks away.

James Monroe

Four possibilities for a failed marriage :
1. He's a jerk, she's cool.
2. She's a jerk, he's cool.
3. They are both jerks.
4. Neither is a jerk, just not compatible.

Now tell me what someone's marriage history means and that all the "good" ones are gone by a certain age.

Dismal science that !


Oopsy Daisy,

You mirror my thoughts exactly!

An economist is as qualified to give marriage advice as the next guy, who can claim to have a handle on marriages. Women select men, not the other way around. I agree, Women select men to bomb for the rest of their lives and men would sell their good arm to be with one they find desirable. Sometimes, i wonder how the bloddy hell did we get here!!!


Natalie Dressed/# 7, that was beautiful. Long may your marriage be economically inefficient.

T. L. Hart

Economics is basically the science or study of consumer behavior given constraints of limited resources/ goods within the pretense of individual value judgement in order to maximize to the degree in which they tolerate.

To superimpose that into relationship terms means that when looking for a wife/husband/"soulmate"/or partner there is a limited amount of options avaliable, availability subject to an individuals" capital" and time, based on a value/utility maximization given the oportunity cost of finding someone better or the" lemon" theory (displayed by#12) what choices consumers (in this case of people to build relationship) make.

Also relationships/marriages are one of the single most "investments (with risk simular to the stock market) or financial moves with serious implications for life time wealth and asset accumulations a person can make. See effects of divorce/marriage on divergent socioeconomic groups to display example of the dramamtic effect it has. Love and happiness is overrate...besides i have hobbies and they have pills for that

Everyone should want to maximize utility, increase efficency, with someone who will increase these things throught compatability and opposed comparative advatages.

Or that's my opinion which is skewed by the fact I got my BS in Econ and I am a female....

Sorry for typos; sent using a droid with no spell check...



Our ancestors may not have believed in a wholly centrally planned marital economy - i.e., arranged marriage - but they were not so naive as to believe that lack of all regulation was a good idea.

This was mainly because nobody could forget, ever, what was the ultimate product of the marital economy. Pregnancies were hard on her, and more mouths to feed for him, so this might have made for a certain amount of realism on the subject of sex. If he had some joy occasionally, and she didn't die during delivery, life was deemed reasonably satisfying.

Sure puts things in perspective, don't it?

Adrian Meli

Well, there is a lot of overlap between psychology and economics so it is not crazy that economists are becoming involved in this field. A lot of smart people are doing things in the field of behavioral economics. That said, I am not sure many are to be listened to when it comes to relationships-attraction and relationships are often things we learn on our own and not easily understandable by listening to others.