Economics Saved My Marriage

By Szuchman, Paula | Newsweek, February 7, 2011 | Go to article overview

Economics Saved My Marriage


Szuchman, Paula, Newsweek


Byline: Paula Szuchman

How a Nobel laureate got me to stop nagging my husband.

To prove a point after a nasty argument--kitchen cabinets were again left open, words were exchanged--my husband sketched a graph plotting the recent state of our marriage. His point was that we were having more bad days than good, and that something was needed to remedy this. But his chart got me thinking: maybe I was actually looking at the remedy. Maybe the solution to our marital strife wasn't to be found on the therapist's couch, but in the hard language of empirical data.

As a Wall Street Journal editor, I was already mired in news about housing bubbles, market noise, and incentives--which, oddly, seemed to have parallels at home. My relationship bubble had burst not long after I said "I do." Were we insufficiently compatible--or just reacting to screwed-up incentives?

I realize this might sound nuts to some people. But I was convinced I was onto something, that the principles of economics--often fact-based and always pragmatic--could reveal the route to wedded bliss (or, in econ-speak, "utility"). So I picked up the phone and cold-called Gary Becker. This also might sound nuts. Gary Becker is one of the world's most famous living economists. He's won the Nobel Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. But could he give relationship advice?

Indeed he could. He's written a ton on the economics of the family and thinks about it in his own marriage. It's why his wife does more of the housework, he said. Since his time, on a monetary scale, is more valuable than hers, he spends more of it working in his office and less in the kitchen. Lucky him.

Nearly four years later, I've had similar conversations with hundreds of economists, psychologists, and regular married folks in a journey that eventually became a book called Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes, written with my friend and fellow business journalist Jenny Anderson. This research, combined with experimenting on my own husband, has led me to recommend a few core principles for anyone looking to fix their marriage. …

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