The Economics of Being Married

A new book by authors Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes is a must read for newly weds and those living together for the first time.  The book posits that using economic principles, it is not always the best way to split up chores 50/50.  Instead, people should do what they’re good at and what they’re most efficient at.  And if that means that one person takes on a bit more responsibility than the other, then so be in.

A few of the other nuggets of wisdom include (taken from

1. Have an honest talk about what tasks each of you is better at. Applying “comparative advantage,” make an honest assessment of which chores you truly do better and faster than your spouse. It may mean switching tasks that were set either along stereotypical lines or based on what you like doing over others. (Though, really, who “likes” doing the dishes daily?) As Szuchman says, marriage is all about allocating scarce resources—”limited time, limited libido, limited money, and the question is, ‘how do you allocate it all well?’ ”

2. Gain new specializations.
If you love being outside but have never mowed a lawn, it may be time to master the mower. If you spend tons of leisure time on the computer, maybe bill-paying should fall under your marital to-do’s. The lesson, Szuchman says, is that sometimes you have to each invest time learning new tasks to shake up a division of labor that’s not working. Be flexible.

3. Let go of perfection. Or what you think perfection is. If your husband takes over the laundry, for example, don’t refold what he folds. And if your wife is stacking the dishwasher every night, don’t rearrange where she puts everything. “Once you divide it all this way, it’s really important to let go,” Szuchman said.

4. Fair doesn’t have to mean equal. Whether it’s because of comparative advantage or because one spouse works out of the home and the other at home, many couples will not have an even-split division of labor. Sometimes one partner is just looking for some give, an extra break from their responsibilities, for married life to feel more balanced. “Life need not be a fifty/fifty split for each person to be happy,” Szuchman and Anderson write. “It could be sixty/forty, or seventy/thirty, or even ninety-nine/one, depending on the people, the situation, and the willingness to put away the calculator and give and take based on what really works best rather than what we think should work best.”

5. If kids come along….
Once you’ve ironed out all disagreements/agreements of splitting chores between the two of you, get ready for some new battles over what chores the kids should do, and how to make sure they follow through on their ‘assignments.’ Number 3 applies here all over again. Don’t remake your tot’s bed once he’s old enough to include it in his daily to-do’s. That sends the wrong message.

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