An Economist Thinking About Love
Marketplace is continuing its series on “Econ Fun-01,” and they recently featured my favorite economist, Betsey Stevenson. I should give a bit more background. Betsey is also my co-author, and we’ve written a bunch of papers (and op-eds) together, taking the economic approach to understanding the family. As her sometimes co-author, I was pleased to hear of her coolly analytic approach:
Economists see markets at play everywhere. Even in your romantic life. Indeed, I’m one of the worst guests that you can invite to your wedding. Why? Because while most of your guests are listening for your love story, I’m listening for your contract. While others see a romantic courtship leading to the altar, I see people who are satisfied enough to stop searching for someone else.
But before continuing, I should also tell you that Betsey is my significant other. Indeed, we’ve been together over a decade, having met in grad school. And with that background, I’ll let her continue:
Searching for a spouse is very similar to searching for a job. There is not one perfect job for each of us, but there are clearly better and worse jobs. So we hunt, for a spouse and a job. When do we stop? When the offer in the hand is better than the likely offer in the bush.
At a wedding I see a relationship that is good enough to settle down and start investing in. If you get a reasonable rate of return, investment in your relationship will make it truly better than any other relationship you could have.
Betsey’s co-author agrees. Her romantic partner isn’t so sure. And both of us are pleased to hear that it turns out she’s a romantic after all:
As an economist I think that a good marriage, like a good employment relationship, emphasizes shared vision, common interests, complementary abilities, and gains from specialization.