Work After Marriage

I know quite a few couples where the woman gave up her career after the first kids arrived. In most of these cases, the woman was better educated than her husband and had better grades and prospects of earnings. Still, the women gave up work and stayed home. A pity for the economy, I thought at the time. The families, as well as the country would have been richer, had these women worked. Some returned to work when the children entered school, but their career path was disrupted once and for all.

I always assumed their choice to stay home was voluntary. But recently another fact about them struck me: with the exception of one couple, they all live in the countryside.  And the one wife that lives in the city was actually the first to return to work.

Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn digged up more data on this and found that dual career couples tend to choose to live in cities. A metropolitan area holds the key for more job prospects for both partners.

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.


Lucky 13

Dear Readers

Happy New Year 2013! Dr de Bergerac’s new year resolution is to blog weekly now. Every Friday you will find a new comment or article or letter informed  by LoveOnomics. You are also welcome to contribute – all sensible comments will be posted, and the most qualified commentators will be invited as guest bloggers. Howzat.

Let’s start by keeping the resolution today and offer some insights on a slippery topic: doubts before marriage.  The Washington Post shows how current the topic is.  What do Economists think?

Doubts clearly express incomplete information: uncertainty about the success prospects of the marriage, as one cannot look into the future. Note that I said incomplete information, not insufficient. Information will always be incomplete; the question is whether it is sufficient. As a matter of fact, it has been shown statistically that most people acquire sufficient information about both the date and the dating market after dating 12 people. If Mr or Ms Doubtful is number 13, and tops the other 12 under any perspective, then he or she is very likely Mr Right.

If not, you need to keep searching. Or rather – pick the One out of the line-up of 13 that tops the list.

Best of luck for this lucky year, and keep in touch!

To call or not to call, that is the question.


Imagine you had a pleasant date and hope to see that person again. Should you call? – Let’s look at it from the economist’s perspective.

A phone call is an effort, an investment with a risk attached like all investments: you might earn the reward of a delighted reaction and indeed, a repeat encounter. Or you might experience various degrees of failure: lack of interest, a cold reception, or worst, a clear signal of refusal. Weighing the reward against the risk, you may think that on balance it’s not worth it.

This is because we tend to over-value losses compared to wins. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky showed in a Nobel Prize winning study that people perceive loss of a certain object as hurting more strongly than the joy coming from winning that same object. The loss or gain is objectively the same, but the human psyche values it differently according to the original situation. Human beings have a tendency to stick to the status quo, and deviations, whether up or down, always have a cost. This discounts gains a bit, and adds to losses. In the context of weighing the risks and benefits of calling a date, this means that most people (if not all) tend to judge them somewhat too pessimistically on balance.

Therefore, our first recommendation: unless you are sure of a refusal, take the risk of calling. The pain of refusal is usually less than imagined. Here, being confident is usually more realistic.

Let’s look at what people actually do. Two large-scale surveys have asked women and men about their calling habits and any successes after dates the dating agency ‘Just Lunch’ asked 38,912 singles, and surveyed 5,000 daters. Here is what they found. Women seem to line with Kahneman and friends: 49% of them never call or expect the man to call first. 20% call two days later, while 15% call the next day. On the other hand, dating men are more courageous: 45% of them say they call the next day, 32% call two days later, and 14% call three days later.

That’s 91% of men calling after a date, wow. Most dating men seem to have overcome the deceptions of loss aversion, congratulations. A small catch with these survey answers is that they leave out those who never or very rarely date. Those who actually have a date to ponder about are potentially a more courageous lot than the non-dating. Anyway, as a bottom line, the figure is quite encouraging.

What about follow-up dates after calling? With such a high calling rate of men, it doesn’t surprise that those who don’t call within 24h rarely arrange for a follow-up date: only 1 in 8.

Therefore, our second recommendation: as a woman, don’t waste too much hope on the chaps that don’t even text within the first 24h, or 48h max. Don’t put all your eggs into one basket and keep dating other people.



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!


Do looks matter?

Dear Economist,

Do looks really matter in the dating market? I mean, conventional wisdom holds that they do. But I seem to observe that many plain girls have found their soul mate, while several beautiful ones haven’t. Before I invest time, energy and money into bettering my exterior, could you confirm that it would be wise to do so?

Sincerely, Layla

Dear Layla,

That is a very good question. While your observations are probably right, your conclusion is wrong. Daniel Hamermesh at the University of Texas has researched the topic of ‘looks’ since the early nineties and gives us four important lessons:

1) Finding a spouse does not depend on looking good.

Holding age and education constant, a woman’s looks are completely unrelated to her chances of being married.

However, your observation is true in the short run: the average looking girls will find a match more quickly, because they are approachable by many men. On the other hand, the rarer you are, including in (good) looks, the longer you will have to search to find comparable material.

2) However, the better you look, the more educated (and therefore better earning) your husband will be.

Hamermesh’s key paper finds that looking average or above gets you a husband with one more year of education compared to the below average lookers (other things held equal).

3) It’s worth checking the looks of your beau: in the workplace, looks are more important for men than for women.

Unattractive women make 12% less than attractive women, but unattractive men make 17% less than the attractive ones.

4) Plastic surgery does not pay.

Even with the results above, don’t go overboard. For each dollar spent on the surgery, you get less than a dollar increased in earnings.