How Can Economics Improve a Marriage? Ask the Authors of Spousonomics

Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, a pair of journalists, are co-authors of the new book Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes. It sorts out optimal strategies for household chores (it’s all about comparative advantage), paying the bills on time (find the right incentive!), and the “too-big-to-fail marriage.”

In a recurring feature on their blog called “Economists in Love,” Szuchman and Anderson have been bringing us the marital insights of economics luminaries including Colin Camerer; Dan Ariely; Shelly Lundberg and Dick Startz; and our own Dan Hamermesh. I particularly like this answer, from Camerer:

Q: Any free riding in your household?

Camerer: No. Here’s why: I am one of the world’s leading experts on psychology, the brain and strategic game theory. But my wife is a woman. So it’s a tie.

Szuchman and Anderson have agreed to field your questions related to the ideas covered in their book, so fire away in the comments section below and, as always, we’ll post their answers in short course.

COMMENTS: 29

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  1. marbleoc says:

    How do you weigh the value of physical chores – such as laundry folding and snow shoveling – vs. psychological chores – such as planning the college application process and keeping teenagers on task for school? As the one with the psychological list I find it is never done – and so I am never free to relax. And frequently annoyed with my partner when he is “done” with his physical tasks.

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  2. Chris Parsons says:

    If both parties are at least partially at fault, who should apologize first? The husband or wife?

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  3. Forced Celibacy says:

    Does either party have sexual obligations to the other? Economically speaking, of course.

    Why isn’t one of your authors a male? Seems like there’s an inherent bias there.

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  4. Anna Broadway says:

    What would you say to those daunted by the opportunity cost of marriage — or any committed/monogamous relationship generally?

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  5. Michael Radosevich says:

    Can any person maximize happiness in a long-term relationship? I know of no “happy marriages” or even happy long-term relationships. Almost everyone I’ve ever known has said that happiness starts to decline after two or three years.

    Studies show that it’s impossible for two people to be “in love” for more than a few years. It’s how our brains work. It seems apparent that serial monogamy is best – two or three years together, maybe four, and then find someone new.

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  6. M. Steve says:

    How would you recommend bringing up perceived imbalances in power without eliciting a defensive response from one’s partner? (Especially if one is a man, and one’s partner is a woman.)

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  7. Harrison Brookie says:

    How do you avoid the counting favors game?

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  8. Jimmy says:

    How would you have used economics to improve the relationship shown in the recent movie “Blue Valentine”?

    It seems to me that the main problem was profoundly emotional and no amount of economic wisdom could have made the marriage better.

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