Want to Quit Smoking? Get Your Spouse to Do It First

(Photo: Mike chernucha)

Smoking is one of our favorite topics on this blog — from the ethics of not hiring smokers to the use of commitment devices to quit. A new NBER paper (gated) by Kerry Anne McGeary looks at smoking in marriages. It finds that one spouse quitting causes the other to quit, through bargaining:

Previous research studying the correlation in smoking behavior between spouses has discounted the role of bargaining or learning. Using the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), which contains information on smoking cessation and spouse’s preferences, this paper presents an essential investigation of the importance of spousal bargaining or learning on the decision to cease smoking. We find, regardless of gender, when one member of [a] couple ceases smoking this induces the other member to cease smoking through bargaining. Further, we find females demonstrate either altruistic behavior toward a spouse, who has suffered a health shock, or learning from their spouse’s health shock.

Shane L

Elderly relatives of mine made an agreement when they married many decades ago. The husband agreed to give up smoking, the wife to give up drinking! So they raised a family with neither tobacco nor alcohol thanks to that little contract!

Syras Derksen

Very interesting! It's nice to read about couples helping each other through difficulties. We hear so much about troubled marriage, this article is a refreshing change.

Syras Derksen


I'd be very interested to hear about the opposite effect and see if this correlation holds true as well. ie: that when a spouse takes up smoking the other is also likely to take it up as well. At least with my experience as an ex smoker and having dated almost exclusively ex smokers as well I find that relapses comes in pairs (as in, for both people in the partnership).