Co-author Confusion

When your co-author is your colleague and also your significant other, confusion often follows. Take this recent post by Arnold Kling on the causes of inequality, where he says:

I think that Betsey Stevenson/Justin Wolfers marriages are another big factor. That is, when highly educated men start looking for wives who are stimulating companions as opposed to kitchen-floor moppers, this reduces cross-class marriages and thereby raises inequality.

I’m flattered by the cite. I think. And so is Betsey (she thinks). But we’re not sure how flattered to be.

Which Betsey Stevenson was Arnold referring to?

Most likely, he’s referring to my co-author Betsey Stevenson, and this is a reference to the Stevenson-Wolfers theory describing the new era of hedonic marriage. More entertainingly, perhaps he’s referring to my significant other, Betsey Stevenson. She’s no “kitchen-floor mopper,” and so he is describing the rise of relationships like ours — relationships between intellectual equals.

Or finally, he could be referring to my marriage to Betsey Stevenson. That is, he’s referring to non-marriages. Betsey and I have learned that couples can form healthy unions without the default contract offered through formal marriage.

Ben D


I am intrigued by the last paragraph. I did not know your marriage is a non-marriage. This is an option that I have thought about often. Can you expand on your reasons for choosing this as opposed to the "default contract." And maybe some cost/benefit analysis of both. Perhaps you can blog about this in the future. Or maybe you already have written on this and can point to a previous blog/article.



Not to get all NOW, but I'm trying to get past the "stimulating companion" vs "floor mopper" thing. I think smart girls know you gotta mop your floor from time to time. We just don't talk about it.


Does mopping the kitchen floor preclude being your mate's intellectual equal? Or are educated, "stimulating" women expected to hire (female) maids and let someone from a lower social and economic rung on the ladder do the dirty work? Sooner or later, smart dudes, the odds are a woman will be washing your dirty floors, whether you marry her or pay her.


If they were truly smart, they'd buy a robot to mop for them! I love my scuba!!

not confused at all

Dear Ben D

Ok - a friend of mind writes this piece- explains as follows- "it is not usually the case that vanity disturbs scientific enterprise"- perhaps he's wondering if it is possible to eliminate vanity or is wondering about how science can be rid of the unhealthy part- I say it's the latter- you guys are full of yourselves - except perhaps my friend- his name appears on title page (not on the cover). It is not easy to give up 1000's of years of service-- Ladies! It is time to start. But- by the same token, it is not easy for a man to admit the capacity to have a real original idea. That too needs to be acknowledged- There is much more than talent involved here- definately of the genius variety (his') and yes the result of a collaboration between friends- that is it.

Freedom at last for us all!


that quote gets the dichotomy all wrong: the choice is between intelligence and beauty- beauty leads to more passion, and intelligence leads to more fulfillment- unfortunately, there is no easy way out of this quandary- love, in the end, is but choosing



If you need someone to explain their reasoning or logic behind not needing to be married to have a fulfilling, meaningful relationship then it probably isn't for you.

Choosing to not enter into a 'default contract' such as marriage is a personal decision. Asking Justin to explain his (and Ms. Stevenson's) reasoning is more than a little bit invasive, don't you think?

That said, I can see where many people 'need' to be married in order to obtain medical/dental/societal benefits or to uphold their own religious beliefs.

Having a marriage certificate is little more than a validation by the state in which you committed to your partner...If someone feels like they need this validation then maybe there is an opportunity to re-think the foundation the relationship is built upon in the first place.

not confused at all

Dear Frakenduf;

point- it may get it wrong-, but it's the real truth- vanity did disturb the enterprise- we were all duped- til now!Thanks for your original contribution to this matter.

Em -

I don't know whether to laugh with Kling or at him. Now intellectual precludes cleaning, which doesn't explain why my less intellectual husband doesn't clean. Another laugh at th wit who suggests the choice is between beauty and intellect. (Sigh.) My 21 year's old hetrosexual son's best friend is a lesbian. They're are talking about living together because they're compatible... I think the point is - what is the point, anyway? Oh yes: Inequality and cross class marriage. What?


you americans are funny; how innovative you find the idea of couples forming life-long unions, or even just - heavens! - living together, without the default formal contract!

Richard Klibaner

The major advantage of getting married is that you no longer have to use phrases like "significant other."

not confused at all

sorry-one more almost forgotten point- the choice is clear that the real truth lies somewhere in between the two extremes.


That's a very interesting ambiguity!

Besides that, what stood out to me the most is the assumption that it's the men looking for the different woman that's causing this structure of relationships. I would attribute it to the changes in women's education and career paths over the past few decades.

Allen Reynolds

Mr. Wolfers,
Sounds like you're the one who's confused.


"Free at last!"


My wife and I are both equally educated, albeit in radically different fields. Is that why I have to do the mopping?


my husband mops the floor



#1 only asked about the reasoning, never mentioning a desire for this kind of relationship

there are certainly advantages to formal marriages, both legal and societal. i would like to know the advantages to nonmarriage, which are less apparent.

also, this post in general is a bit self-indulgent if your co-author and sig other are the same person. are you just bragging about how enlightened you are? there is very low information content in your rambling prose.


what does your non-marriage signal to outsiders, mostly americans? a fear of true commitment? a transient coupling? a childless future?

not confused any more

Dear kat, ricky;

one more thing---as predicted--- and as far as changes in women's education- I wish I could say that this were true-- but i had this idea before the age of 21- when I shared it with a friend/mentor through the difficult times of growing up. so that makes it 37 years ago and moreover --the idea was percolating in my head since I wrote a physics paper as a child. Was not recognized- so unfortunately, it was thrown out. My mastering math is documented (hs year book) And as far as children are concerned- there's one (who's been there and done that- she made a scientific discovery--but does not know it --as I did by myself as a kid-- (had a great teacher, was a privatdocent of my dad--re math analysis- Daughter has an artist for a real dad- and he's gifted on the love, visual and listening side-- but she gets her stronging reasoning skills from her mom-- and my friend helped me to understand the dissonance a bit better-- I also have a student now in grad school- he reads chinese- perhaps another--long term. But if you ask me- public schools have a bit of learning to do re the private side of education and teaching to the individual- I had a teacher like that in graduate school--another mentor by the name of Joseph Bensman and what a great teacher of sociology he was-- he would hold individual conversations with a number of students at once and simultaneously- wow- teachers need training like this-- so kids are not bored i.e., as so many say they are-- like dead meat-

sorry for being so long-winded- an unusual day.