Love and Work

I wanted to write a post that matches a seasonal date and picked 1st of May, which is the day of work (or labor) in many countries. And just as I am looking for an inspiration to write about Love and Work, a domestic discussion dawns upon me that is right on theme. Best Husband is not thrilled at yours truly working too much in the office and too little at home. He’s got a point: contrary to the mainstream, he really shoulders the bulk, some 90%, of our housework. He has also, for an extended time, been a stay-at-home-dad.

So what would a wise Economist advice? Who should do what in the home, and how much? Here are three points that should guide your decision:

  1. Comparative advantage. Old theory, still true. Who of you is comparatively faster and better at household chores (compared to other tasks that are waiting, such as childcare and work outside the house) should do more of them (and less of the other tasks). Putting all tasks on the table together may aid the negotiation.
  2. If you want more kids, make sure the woman doesn’t do too much. An Australian study (Craig and Siminski, Soc Pol 2010) found that the higher the workload of wives in a household, the less likely the household was to decide for a second child.
  3. Absolute workload matters more than relative share of husband vs wife. In the study mentioned above, the relative share showed no effect on fertility decisions. It doesn’t matter to the wife if the husband alleviates her load, or if hired help does. (Actually, the latter should be more popular, because the wife may want to spend her newfound leisure with her husband..rather than see him work.)

5 Things That Keep You Faithful

It’s wonderful to marry. It’s wonderful to be married. And in many cases it’s wonderful to stay married for life. There are the obvious exceptions when relationships become unbearable at least for one party. But there are also the break-ups that needn’t be. I don’t know how you feel about it, but I see many broken up marriages that could have been great. No abuse anywhere, two intelligent and loving people with great hope…but often – unfaithfulness creeping in out of nowhere.

Sometimes I see the first symptoms; partners not wearing their wedding band and giving a pretend-unmarried face to the world and their colleagues. When in reality they are very married. Or people sending mixed signals: no wedding band, but frequent mention of their partner. Unless the person is affiliated to a culture that doesn’t know the ring as a symbol – I don’t trust the wedding-band shirkers, also in matters unrelated to marriage.

So today’s column is about staying faithful. More precisely, about how to resist the temptation to the contrary. Our recommendations are inspired by recent research from a team of international sociologists, and actually apply to various areas of life:

  1. You can successfully say ‘No’ to temptation most of the time. Among common daily temptations (not necessarily for relationships, but for example for ice cream, internet surfing etc), people fail to resist only 17% of the time.
  2. But beware: self-control tires out. Resistance is a depleting reservoir. Failure occurs after many successful attempts to fend off temptation.  The main recommendation coming out of this is the next point:
  3. The best strategy to resist temptations is to avoid them altogether. In this way, you do not have to use your weakening resistance muscle, and can keep it ready for the unavoidable temptation. Faithful people work mainly by avoiding temptation, not by fighting it.
  4. Alcohol not only weakens resistance but actually makes temptation stronger. Stay away from alcohol and other mind-altering drugs. Also,…
  5. Stay away from people who yield to the temptations you want to avoid. Watching others succumb to a temptation makes you more likely to do the same. I guess, in the case of infidelity, which always involves two, this argument is even stronger: if you are around people who are ready to be unfaithful, it is more likely to happen to you.  – So, switch workplace, sports club or other circles if they have a high density of cheaters.

Time and Babies

Dear Economist,

my husband and I are planning to have a baby. Of course we already hear more advice than we want to. But what do you think: will a baby change our relationship? How? Will it make us happier?

Thank you, Veronica

Dear Veronica,

Let’s compare the pre-baby and post-baby worlds from an economist’s perspective. One basic economic choice to make is how much to work vs how much leisure to enjoy. More work means more money and more things you can consume; and it also means less leisure. In the pre-baby world, you and hubby have already made this choice. You chose a job, and with it a certain salary and a certain amount of work hours. If you and hubby care a lot about each other and about the same things, you likely arranged your work in a way that allows you to enjoy leisure together. This usually entails some sharing of chores, for example. (Compare this Daily Comment.)

As you already made this choice when entering post-baby world, your leisure hours are pretty fixed. Now, with a baby, a large chunk of one person’s leisure hours will be committed to baby care. There are different ways you can go about this, and some will likely make you happier than others. If you are not very interested in baby care, and assume the load alone, it will feel like a proportional reduction in your leisure time. Leisure gone and nothing in return – and you will likely be less happy than before. If you like baby care (as I assume you do, because you want a baby), then you will enjoy the hours of baby care, like nothing you ever experienced before. If your husband is of the same view, joint caring will be like leisure spent jointly and much fun. And it will strengthen your relationship.

One caveat, even for the sunny scenario. Baby care, like any fun activity, has diminishing returns. A further hour spent on it is less fun than the first hour. What is more, in this particular case, the returns are very non-linear. I.e. after pretty much a plateau of reasonably high returns, they diminish markedly and care can become very tiring. It is a good idea to find out (and be honest about) this inflection point for yourself and husband. Make sure to involve help for the hours beyond this point, from a baby sitter, grandparents or others. You, hubby and also your kids will be the happier for it..

Your Economist

 

Support in marriage = success in business

Haven’t we guessed it. A woman’s courage and success in business likely depend on the supportiveness of her husband. A husband that respects a woman’s personal ownership of things, and income, and decisions…. and that cooperatively supports her efforts, likely has a wife that invests (herself) more, takes more risks and is ultimately more successful.

In the same context, and provided with the same opportunities, women with and without supportive husbands can perform strikingly differently. This smart paper shows some preliminary evidence in that direction.

Inspired by these findings, dear lady daters, add to your list of criteria: he has to respect your decisions (and time, and property..), bargain fairly and help with your career goals.

Can you have a career and a happy family?

Today, dear readers, you get a reflective one. Not much evidence except anecdotal, but lots of reflection to make up for it.

Honest, do you know a hugely successful person that also has a home life you would want to emulate?

I used to have such role models in the past (e.g. an MD with four kids), but as I move up the ranks myself, MDs become less of a role model, and CEOs more so. Also, upon closer inspection, those four kids were not all as well adjusted as their mum. And as far as managers go…I seem to be seeing more childless, single and divorced people than at other hierarchy levels. Or people with a lifelong distance relationship; one CEO sees her partner once a month and considers that a relationship. Another variant is living together ‘for the kids’ but dropping the wedding band and normal marital interactions between the spouses; until the kids are grown and a divorce is less painful.

What is this? Does a parents’ high powered career zap the life out of couple communication? Does a job encroach so much upon spare time that people end up married to their job? Or is my perception not representative?

And what about the children’s growth path? Again, if you look at the anecdotes, successful parents often raise less successful kids. Warren Buffett’s daughter runs a (daddy-financed?) philanthropy, and his son is a farmer. Not that there’s anything wrong with farming. And Paris Hilton…well. The Clintons and maybe Mitt Romney seem to be an exception. Bill Gates’ kids are too young to tell.

Readers, this is one for you. Please share your observations via the comment function.

Good Things Happen to People Who…Wait

Victoria is a beautiful and educated young woman from a well-to-do family.  She is also not too easy to please. She loves good manners and protocol and has a well-developed appreciation for gentlemanlikeness. Including for men to make the first move and to invite the ladies; not the other way round. She has had several admirers. And turned them down time and again. While she turned 20…25…30…she dismissed men she found not good enough. She plainly refused to think about any ticking clock, going against the current in her peer group. And then she met John. He passed the bar and she had in fact met her soulmate. But that is another story.

Victoria waited. She was happy to wait and happy in her wait. She met her girlfriends regularly, she had a bookclub and went to a sports club. She also loved organizing charity events and mingled in her university’s alumni club. Her time was well and happily filled and there was probably too much buzz to hear any clock ticking. She also switched careers and became a ‘mature student’ again at age 28, getting her MD at 32. (She married John one year later, by the way.)

When people wait comfortably for a partner, the match will be better and more sustainable. This common sense insight has some solid economic theory to back it up. Dale Mortensen in ‘Partner for Life’ reviews the labor market literature that is applicable not only to employer-employee but also husband-wife partnerships. And finds that people who find a way to sweeten the wait end up better matched. (And the unemployed who receive an unemployment benefit end up in a better matched job. But that is another story.)

 

 

Are you ‘well matched’ with your partner? 5 Shades of Love

What is a good match? Which couples are ‘meant for each other’? I would assume that most people agree that a good match is one where the partners love each other. Very much.

But how can we get at the ‘love’ concept? With economics, of all sciences?

Lo and behold, one extra daring economist has tried to capture ‘love’ in economic terms. Some of you may have guessed: Gary Becker. Inspired by his writings, here are 5 aspects of love that economists understand.

Love is…

  1. Caring about the partner. This is best measured as altruism, a concept that economists are, on average, fairly familiar with. In economic terms, it means, my happiness (“utility”) improves, if my partner’s happiness improves.
  2. Trust. If you two really care for each other, you don’t have to watch your back that much. Your partner already will.
  3. Sharing and generosity. If your partner is happy about you being happy, it doesn’t matter so much if he eats the last piece of cake or if you do. He’ll be (nearly) equally happy.
  4. Enjoying things more if consumed together. If you really care for each other, you enjoy a joint dinner more than if each person eats in her own time. Dinner has altogether a new quality; it becomes hard to accept a separate dinner as a valid meal. The same is true for other items, travel, parties, reading a book, even trying out new fashion.
  5. Enjoying the same things. Because of 4, it also makes sense if you like the same things. The same books, countries, dinners and dinner times, places…

If you can capture love in economic terms, it also means you can measure it.

If you want to know how well you are matched, here are questions you should ask: 1) Is your partner happy, if you are happy? 2) Can you trust him; does he look out for your advantage as much as his? 3) How does he share whatever is scarce – time, cake, money? 4) How much more do you enjoy dinner when you are together rather than dinner alone?

And, finally 5) How long does it take to agree on the theatre play you are going to watch, or the kind of picture you are going to hang?

The answer to these will be telling…

Epiphany Special: Top 5 Factors for a Happy Marriage with Kids

As a sequel to last year’s Christmas Special, we revisit the topic of children and marriage. What do kids do to a relationship?  Brad Wilcox and friends at U Virginia know more. Yes, it is still true, that, on average, parenthood decreases marital happiness. Not overall happiness, but marital happiness. Yet, a significant minority of 35% remain happy in their marriage, or even see their marital happiness increase after children arrive. In the last Special, we looked at marital factors that differ for these folks. Today we look at the top 5 social aspects:

1.      Education. Education. Education. College-educated parents have more stable and happier marriages than their peers with lower education. The researchers reckon that stronger social skills and better money may be the underlying reasons. I beg to differ; especially as the Money factor is measured separately. In my humble opinion, higher education confers a stronger sense of empowerment and confidence in one’s own skills to solve problems.

2.       Money. Income does not matter for marital happiness. But financial stress does. Spouses with high consumer debt are likely not very happy in their marriage.

3.       Sharing chores and childcare. Mothers and fathers that share the housework and the childcare equally report higher marital happiness.

4.       Women working as much as they want, but not more. Mothers who work more hours than they would like to report lower happiness in their marriage.

5.       A (safety) net of friends and family. Extended family, and close friends can act as ‘insurance’ and alleviate some acute issues, for example regarding finances or childcare. They can also be a source of knowledge or education and role modeling. But: the influence can also go the other way. Family or friends that foster a critical attitude between the spouses or are bad role models will endanger marital happiness.

 

Christmas Special: Kids and Relationships

What do kids do to a relationship? Will your marriage be better or worse for it?  – Recent research published by W. Bradford Wilcox and others at the University of Virginia digged out interesting findings. It turns out, that, on average, parenthood decreases marital happiness. Not overall happiness, but marital happiness. Yet, a significant minority of 35% (about the share of the winning parties in the recent elections in North Africa) remain happy in their marriage, or even see their marital happiness increase after children arrive.

What do these folks do differently? Here is a quick account of their top 6 relationship factors:

1.       A happy and active sex life. In terms impact, this is the strongest factor. “Sexually satisfied wives enjoy a 43-percentage-point premium in the odds of being very happy in their marriages, and sexually satisfied husbands enjoy a 46-percentage-point premium in marital happiness.”

2.       Thinking ‘we’ instead of ‘me’. Married parents who score above average in terms of commitment are at least 45 percentage points more likely to report being “very happy” in their marriages, and 23 percentage points less likely to be prone to divorce.   ‘Commitment’ measures the extent to which spouses see their relationship in terms of “we” versus “me,” the importance they attach to their relationship, their conviction that a better relationship with someone else does not exist, and their desire to stay in the relationship “no matter what rough times we encounter.”

3.       Random acts of kindness. Married parents who are generous with each other —both in terms of giving and receiving in a spirit of generosity—are significantly more likely to report that they are ‘very happy’ in their marriage. Generosity is defined as the virtue of giving good things to [one’s spouse] freely and abundantly, and encompasses small acts of service (e.g., making coffee for one’s spouse in the morning), the expression of affection, displays of respect, and a willingness to “forgive him/her for mistakes and failings.”

4.       A family-centered value system. Independent of religion, couples who value family life, and having and rearing children, and always did, are obviously: happier parents.

5.       Good friends and peers who share the experience of parenthood. “Research suggests that parents who have friends or peer support groups with whom they can talk about the challenges of parenthood do markedly better than parents who go it alone.”  But the influence of family and friends can be for good or ill.  Family and friends who encourage strife or who give a bad example are no support for married parents.  On the other hand, couples who experience high levels of support from family and friends for their marriage also report a more happy marriage. This factor ranks no. 5 for women, but is not in the top five for husbands.

6.       Shared and practiced religion. Couples who attend religious services together are more happy parents. Couples who subjectively feel ‘God at the center’ of their marriage are even more happy. “Shared religious attendance is linked to an increase of more than 3 percentage points that a parent is very happy in marriage, and to a decrease of more than 3 percentage points that a parent is prone to separation or divorce.” (These percentages increase 8-fold for couples who see a divine presence in their marriage.) – It strikes me that couples with young children who attend services together also have either (i) very well behaved children or (ii) a flexible solution for childcare.  – This factor ranks no. 5 for husbands but is not among the top five for wives.

These are the top 6 relationship factors that make husbands and wives happier parents. Our next special will look at the top social factors with the same influence…stay tuned!

Happy Xmas tide until then!

 

Happiness: invest in your relationships, not your career

We kind of suspected it: relationships are worth so much more than many things we usually strive after (career, money, property…). When you want true happiness, claims David Brooks in ‘Social Animal’, your best investments are many, trusting and deep relationships. A good marriage is apparently worth $120,000 a year just by itself. (Dr de Bergerac thinks this is an understatement.) Every friendship, multiplied by its depth, adds to the happiness income.

So there we go. Starting next week, make sure to leave your desk at 5pm sharp and call up your buddy instead of reviewing the accounts once more.