How I Know I Love My Wife

A year ago, my wife said to me, “I need you to do me a favor.”  I knew that was bad news. A charity she is heavily involved with, Half the Sky, was planning an event in Chicago and she had volunteered me to be the speaker.

In principle, this was no big deal. I speak in front of groups all the time.  I can talk about Freakonomics, SuperFreakonomics, and my academic research in my sleep.

I knew immediately, however, that this speech would be completely different.  Although I often tell stories about myself and my life, they are never stories about emotions. I am one of the most closed off people you’ll ever find when it comes to emotional topics. I have never learned, or really even tried to learn how to express emotions. I’m not proud of this, it just is the truth.

There was no way, however, that I could speak at a Half the Sky event without opening up my emotions. Half the Sky is an amazing charity – perhaps one of the world’s best – doing incredible work with Chinese orphanages. The only events that ever fully penetrated my emotional wall were the death of my son Andrew and the subsequent, deeply moving process of adopting a daughter (eventually two daughters) from China. More than a decade later, the emotions associated with these two events remain shockingly raw, hiding just below the surface.

I know I love my wife because there is nothing I would rather do less than stand in front of a crowd talking about these things. But I also knew that there was nothing in the world that would mean more to her than my doing it. Not primarily because it would help Half the Sky, but rather, because she rightfully wishes I weren’t such an emotional invalid. For once, I decided not to be selfish.

You can see the speech here, and also watch it below. I can think of few other things in my life that I am more glad to have done, after the fact.  All the same, I don’t plan on doing anything like it again for a long, long time.

robyn ann goldstein

Thank you.

Joshua Northey

"I know I love my wife because there is nothing I would rather do less than stand in front of a crowd talking about these things. "

This seems like literary hyperbole. How about stick your hand in a wood chipper? Or have a testicular torsion? I kid, I kid.

As for this personal tidbit, I am sorry to hear of your loss and glad to hear you have made such a positive experience from it. My wife is crazy about adoption so I will probably be joining you in the land of people with adopted children in the near future.

I hate to be a crabby web-guest, but the new little "recommended for you" pop-up in the lower right hand corner will stop me from coming to this site within a pretty short timeframe if it keeps coming up so often. Did web-developers learn nothing from the late 90s?


Click on the question mark and you can disable it if you have cookies turned on


Thank you! That pop up is so annoying.... it just came up again as i am writing this.


Thanks so much for sharing your story... deeply moving. While I have a lot of respect for your work as an economist, this is so much more important and impacting. Please, don't wait for 'a long long time' to share it again. It's a gift to all of us...

Gail Hounslea

What a really heartfelt speech from Steven Levitt about orphanages in China.Clearly he loves his wife and his daughters.

robyn ann goldstein

Great story. I can relate. My husband has been asking me to "get the book done" for ---- a very, very long time. My daughter finished her version on stage (8th grade). I will for them alone.


Thank you for doing this. I just saw your video through a Facebook friend's post. I watched it because I am very interested in the topic of adoption. As a result, I now know about Half the Sky, something I probably wouldn't have found if not for your video.

Steve W.

"I am one of the most closed off people you’ll ever find . . . I have never learned . . . how to express emotions."

You've finally emerged from the shadow that hangs over all MIT graduates!

I should be fair. Some of that is a selection effect: MIT attracts people who have emotional problems. But at least some of it has to do with the culture. (MIT and Harvard attract similar students but 76% of MIT students have an "emotional problem that affects [them] on a daily basis" while at Harvard the most comparable statistic is 45%.)


Thank you for posting this. I'm a proud Mom to my Chenzhou boy, and we're so very grateful for the work HTS does. My son would not be the loving, smart, healthy boy that he is without Half The Sky.

Jeffrey Trapnell

Half the Sky finished the infant center in the Yiyang SWI one month before my daughter was brought there. Not a day goes by that we do not see the joy and love of life our daughter exudes. We believe and record of the interaction the HTS nanny had with our daughter. Thank you to Jenny and her team of people and to the donors who made a financial contribution that made it possible for my Callie to prosper. Today, we sponsor a child in the hope that child will find a permanent loving family.


Well done Steve, that took guts!

One of the themes of the Freakonomics books was the idea that well-intentioned plans can have unexpected negative consequences, and history is littered with examples of good people doing things that make life worse. But I suppose one should remember that some well-intentioned plans lead to great successes too, like apparently in this case. Failure isn't at all inevitable.

Aaron Scott

For all of its unutterable pain, the fact that Andrew is still held so dear and so close in his father's heart is a thing of wondrous beauty and eternal light.

I have been to many church services that touched my soul far, far less than hearing the emotion in your voice as you spoke of a beloved son lost...and a beloved daughter found.

The Bible says that love, for God and our neighbor, fulfills all the Law and the Prophets. In doing what you have done--remembering Andrew so lovingly and deeply, and caring for Amanda so dearly--you have surely shown what God wants from mankind.

"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. " (James 1:27 KJV)

Edward Kim

Thank you, a blessing to hear your testimony.


I can't stop thinking about your speech, it was incredibly moving and inspiring. I'm sure it took immense courage to get up and give that speech and I raise my hat to you. Thank you for sharing. I'm so sorry for the loss of your son and I applaud your efforts to change the lives of your little girls.


Your incredible mind + heart + humor= a whole new galaxy. Please continue to explore and share it with us.

Delia Lloyd

This is an amazing talk, Steve. So glad that have your connected with your inner emotional invalid and taken it out for a walk. Will link to this on my blog tomorrow for sure. Very powerful.

Delia Lloyd

Lasse Rasinen

I tried to watch this in the early hours of the morning, while trying to get my week-old son to fall asleep. I could not get past the 5 minute point.

In the light of day, it's easier but it still brings tears to my eyes.

You are a good man, Mr Levitt.

Tony K

Awesome. Thank you.


Sam Pierce

Thank you. As a proud dad of two Chinese daughters and a HTS supporter, I appreciate you sharing your personal experience especially since I am a reader of your academic work.