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

 

Who tells the truth, husbands or wives?

Scientists who collect survey data talk to a lot of people and ask them a lot of questions. That includes a lot of husbands and wives. Sometimes they ask the same question to both, but in separate meetings. For example about what the couple own, how they spend their time, how many kids they have and how many more they want.

What is reassuring is that husbands and wives give mostly the same answers. For nearly any question, 100% of husbands and wives agree on what is going on (says some recent research on this).

On some questions however, husbands and wives disagree more. Some of these are on opinions, like ‘how big do you want your family to be?’ It’s quite possible that couples do not agree. Or maybe they don’t talk much about it. But others are about clear facts, as in: do you use contraception? In the cited research, men tended to paint a more socially popular picture than their wives, on questions related to family planning and sexual health.

Hm. Maybe due to context. Or maybe not.

What can be done? Well, the effect was actually more marked in areas where women had lower status relative to men. Areas with more equity between men and women showed more consistency.

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.

What are good things to talk about on a first date?

Dear Economist,
it’s all very well identifying women you could be interested in. The problem is when you managed to get to the first step, i.e. the first date. What to do next? What are good things to talk about on a first date?
Sincerely, Nithin

Dear Nithin,excellent question. What you want are themes that give you valuable information about your date, but are not boring or scare her away. What does that mean? You actually want to ask questions that are easy maybe even fun to answer, yet relevant and substantial.

Economists have called this ‘ascertaining full information about easily researchable traits’. In a 1970 paper in the American Economic Review, Dale Mortensen suggested that relationship decisions are best taken by concentrating efforts on ‘easily researchable traits’, like education, intelligence, physical appearance, and family background. It’s better to spend much dating dialogue on these topics, rather than fuzzier ones, like for example ambition, resilience under pressure and potential for growth. How do you want to pin these down anyway?

Whatever you ask, finding out things is difficult (economists would say ‘costly’) so you need to think about where to spend your effort. You don’t want to spend it on stuff that’s a pain to see clearly about. In other words, stick to the easy and transparent stuff, stay away from the murky. If not you’ll spend much time and effort and be none the wiser.

Best of luck, and do check back in.

Dr De Bergerac