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Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master…

Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes

by Paula Szuchman, Jenny Anderson

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8610140,249 (3.63)7



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Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson are economists-turned-relationship experts who are married, though not to each other (that would make an interesting book though). Their basic idea is that economic principles can be applied to relationship problems. So for example, housework is explained in terms of division of labour, trading partnerships and comparative advantage.

I tried to explain this housework analogy to my partner, Mike...

Me: Okay, so if England can make a pair of underwear in 30 minutes and a bottle of wine in 60 minutes, but Portugal can make a pair of underwear in 20 minutes but a bottle of wine in 10, it would seem like it would be best to just outsource everything to Portugal, right?

Mike: Okay...

Me: Right, but then if Portugal makes ALL the wine and England makes ALL the underwear, then they trade, they're both working less than if they both did it all themselves.

Mike: I guess...what?

Me: Exactly. So that means that housework doesn't have to be exactly fifty-fifty, but that we should specialize in the things we do best, so we both save time.

Mike: What if there's a depression?

Me: What? Do you mean an economic depression, or like if one of the people in a relationship is depressed?

Mike: Either one. Does the metaphor hold up?

Me: What? I don't even know what you mean.

Mike: What about third party trading? Who's the middle man in this situation?

Me: Are you talking about swinging?

Mike: Is that in the book??

Me: I don't think so.

Mike: Actually I was thinking of sister wives. How do they divide labour?

Me: Hmmm. Well according to Big Love, they have meetings.

Mike: That's right! They do! Huh. Maybe they DO draw up trade agreements for housework.

Me: Yes! Just like this book. This book would be perfect for sister wives.

Okay, so "this book would be perfect for sister wives" isn't exactly the review I had intended to write. But I do think that lots of relationships--even nontraditional ones--can benefit from a marriage guide that offers practical tips for real-life situations, instead of just one that is filled with "feelings journals," guilt trips or reminders of "what God wants from your marriage."

That's not to say that this book didn't make me feel guilty at times. They list burnt out light bulbs, a raised bump in the middle of the bed, and love handles as all in the top ten signs of "marriage market failure." Screw you, book! Don't get snippy with me! No, I do not have a tone. YOU have a tone! And I already KNOW who Adam Smith is, thank-you very much!

Hmmm. I'm now having a spat with a relationship advice book. Maybe it IS me.

For more reviews, please visit my blog, CozyLittleBookJournal.

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from NetGalley. I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own. ( )
  CozyBookJournal | Aug 5, 2012 |
Get two women together. One wants to write a book about economics and the other a book about marriage. The result is this curious arrangement. While it does contain some good tips here and there, I felt overall that some of the advice was a bit idealistic.

Each chapter is focussed on a different aspect of economic theory (bit yawny) and, using well-illustrated real-life example of marital issues, they then apply this theory to demonstrate how it can help to solve issues that couples run into. While some of this may well work for some couples, as I said, I thought some of the application was a bit idealistic. We are after all living, changing beings. Solutions that might work at one point in our marriage, may well cause problems at others.

Even worse, and this is where the book really falls down for me, we’re not rational rule-bound objects like pounds and pence. We’re anything but, especially at a time of conflict in a close relationship like marriage. For all sorts of reasons, we behave in ways that do not make sense economically because, when push comes to shove, it isn’t economy we’re motivated by. And when you’re in the deep end and thrashing to get out, someone explaining the technical theory of breast stroke from the side of the pool is only going to make you feel worse.

What I thought this book lacked was any admission that we are broken beings and always will be. There will always be conflict, within ourselves, with our spouses, with the world in general. The book didn’t seem to say to me, try this and, if it doesn’t work, know that you are in company. That makes sense. I mean, you don’t sell books by admitting that the advice your giving probably won’t work in most cases. But without the empathy such an admission brings, I felt the book was clinical and a bit cold. Dare I say ivory tower?

So, in the end, although it was an interesting idea, I felt that the book was a bit too simplistic. We can all attempt to follow patterns of behaviour that, ideally, will solve everything. In reality though, things don’t usually work out that way. At least that’s my reality. Habits are hard to break and even harder to form. At best I think this book will provide an idea or two for couples to try out and, if it works, good luck to ‘em. At worst, I think this could set some couples up for a fall as they take ideal solutions and apply them to less than ideal realities. ( )
  arukiyomi | Jul 20, 2012 |
I really like this, it makes sense to me. It offers real solutions to day-to-day issues. I think this book could be helpful to most marriages, no marriage is perfect, they all take work. None of the ideas are complicated and they use examples of actual couples to explain each concept. The focus is on marriage, but some of the techniques could be helpful in relationships with other family members.

I copied this review from goodreads, I won this advance uncorrected proof proof through the first reads program. I am glad I won this, I probably wouldn't have read it otherwise. I do wish I could see the cover better, mine is plain. ( )
  debsanswers | Nov 9, 2011 |
A great read for any married couple. The authors take case studies with honest answers from a variety of couples and they apply economic principles to their problems. They manage to do it with humor and make the potentially boring subject incredibly entertaining and relatable.

I’m not big on self-help books, marriage books, etc. They just never seem to interest me enough to read the whole thing, but I couldn’t put this one down. Think about it as Freakonomics for marriage. I loved hearing about the issues couples were dealing with. Some were ones I could relate to, others weren’t, but all of them were interesting. ( )
  bookworm12 | Oct 4, 2011 |
As with the majority of self-help books, Spousonomics is mainly about the systematization of common sense. But unlike other self-help books, it is quite open about that systematization, and that's what makes it stand out. Its authors, both economists and (apparently happily) married women, explain how to apply some basic economics methods to common coupledom problems. The result is not terribly interesting, but fun to read nevertheless. ( )
  timtom | Aug 11, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
During a heated argument with your spouse, do general marketing concepts come to mind as a way of reaching a compromise? No? Spousonomics is a witty book that suggests that using economic principles is exactly what we need to resolve our relationship conflicts. By following business-oriented steps, each side would be able to see things from a fresh perspective; thus redefining 'winning' the argument.

After authors Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson were struck with the idea that economics could be used for something other than academia and work, they got down to nation-wide surveys and research, and spent their time delving through economic books to break down concepts like trade-offs, division of labour, and loss aversion, and build them up again to apply to real-life marriage problems.

Each one of the ten chapters tackles one concept, providing a case study of a married couple who had faced a problem and what they did or should have done to solve it. The book is written in a way that is both thought-provoking and funny, though it mainly discusses economic topics. It’s interesting that these economic theories are actually enjoyable to read when applied to real life with relevant explanations.

While comparing marriage to business doesn’t sound very romantic, it helps putting problems into a practical perspective. By balancing the costs and benefits of each argument, a couple is more likely to reach a solution that will satisfy both sides and thus make it easier to achieve peace of mind and a happy home. However, it is admittedly hard work, and the book doesn’t omit the fact that it takes training to get used to solving problems that way.

Thankfully, Spousonomics focuses more on life examples with explicit humour than economic jargon. Better yet, it’s a change from most relationship books that only drag out the typical advice of keeping a journal. Usually perceived as one of the causes of marital problems, this book proves that economics can be part of the solution as well.

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385343949, Hardcover)

A Letter from Co-author Jenny Anderson

When I told my husband I was thinking about writing a book about marriage, specifically a book that used economic principles to resolve common conflicts, he reacted as if I’d asked suggested we take up sea kayaking. “Sounds cool,” he said.

At the time, I was eight months pregnant with our first kid and working as a business reporter at the New York Times. It was 2008 and the financial world was falling apart. I was working 12 hour days, and we were all hoping I wouldn’t go into labor in the newsroom. But somehow in spite of this, I was convinced that writing a book was not just a good idea, but a fantastic family undertaking. I’d learn more about successful marriages! I’d become an amateur economist! I’d come up with all sorts of cool tricks to getting what I wanted. What genius!

Talk about overconfidence. In It's Not You, It's the Dishes [editor's note: this book was originally published as Spousonomics], Paula Szuchman, my co-author, and I write that overconfidence contributes not just to booms and busts in the wider economy, but booms and busts in marriage, too. Overconfidence is what causes CEOs of major corporations--think Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers--to blow up their firms: They didn’t plan for the worst because they thought they were too smart to drive their banks into the ground. Similarly, overconfidence drives couples to assume they will be together forever and then fail to take into account how much strain certain events--say, a baby, a full-time job and a book--might put on their relationship.

Chalk that one up to inexperience. I hadn’t yet started my research into the world of marriage and economics. But the more Paula and I researched the latest thinking in economics, while simultaneously interviewing hundreds of couples across the country about their own marriages, the more we realized just how much economics has to teach us about making marriage work. We were learning how to divide labor more efficiently, how sex comes down to a simple question of supply and demand, and how a smart incentive can get your spouse to do almost anything you want (almost).

We even hit on some anger-management techniques. When Paula and her husband would discuss something--say, why he’s incapable of signaling before making a left turn--Paula sometimes felt inclined to argue all night if he didn’t immediately concede that she was right about all his flaws. That’s because she was taught never to go to bed angry. So she’d amp it up until her husband would fall asleep, and she was apoplectic. “Woman, we need our sleep,” he’d say, rolling over and leaving her in a smoldering heap of fury.

At first she thought this “going to sleep” was heresy. But then she wrote a chapter about a concept in behavioral economics called “loss aversion,” meaning our strong dislike of losing. She learned we hate losing so much that we have to win $200 to make up for the pain of losing $100. Traders who are losing bet the house, for example (there’s a reason pawn shops are conveniently located next to casinos). Similarly, when Paula was losing in an argument with her husband, she dug in her heels and kept trying to win at all costs. She’s not alone: In our research, we found that two-thirds of married couples keep fighting even when they know it’s “a losing battle.”

Paula learned that a better approach was actually sleeping on it. After all, was she fighting about the turn signals or was it her loss aversion kicking in? So she’d go to bed angry and see how she felt in the morning. If she still cared, she could have a rational conversation about it. If she didn’t--and often she didn’t--well then, both she and her husband got some much-needed sleep. Another bonus: She could cut back on the tally of regrettable-things-said in the wee hours of the morning when winning is really the only objective.

I recall my husband’s original enthusiasm about the book with a twinge of nostalgia. We didn’t know our marriage would be put through the wringer, or that I’d have two kids during the writing of the book (Paula had one, too, bringing the offspring total to three). But in the end, my overconfidence was not totally misplaced. I did learn a lot of new tricks. I have a better toolkit. And so does my husband.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:53:22 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Marriage is a mysterious, often irrational business. Making it work till death do you part -- or just till the end of the week -- isn't always easy. And no one ever handed you a user's manual. Until now. Here, Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson offer something new: a clear-eyed, rational route to demystifying your disagreements and improving your relationship. The key, they propose, is to think like an economist. Economics is the study of resource allocation, after all. How do we -- as partners in a society, a business, or a marriage -- spend our limited time, money, and energy? And how do we allocate these resources most efficiently? Spousonomics answers these questions by taking classic economic concepts and applying them to the domestic front. -- From publisher description.… (more)

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