"Spousonomics," by Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, applies economics to marriage.

Sunday, February 13, 2011



Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes

By Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson Random House. 332 pp. $26

Comparing marriage to a business doesn't sound very romantic. But in "Spousonomics," journalists Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson make a convincing and creative case for how the dismal science can help reconcile marital disputes.

Applying economic research to anecdotes from couples around the country, Szuchman and Anderson draw on concepts such as the division of labor and game theory to help readers determine who should mow the lawn or how to persuade a homebody spouse to join you at the movies. Just as technology has made it easier for countries to be flexible in the global economy, the authors propose, so has the redefining of gender roles allowed spouses to become more adaptable partners.

"Spousonomics" takes a long view on economics, using Holland's tulip craze of the 1500s and the recent housing crisis to explain how relationships can generate their own bubbles, which may need recovery plans. A marriage may seem "too big to fail," but add some stresses (more kids, a more expensive house, a lost job) and that bubble of happiness might stretch to the bursting point.

The authors argue for economics as a domestic arbiter "because it doesn't discriminate between the sexes, between who's 'right' and who's 'wrong' . . . doesn't talk down to you or attempt to psychoanalyze." And while the "Spousonomics" egalitarian view of marriage does avoid those pitfalls, some of the problems tackled by the authors appear small-bore. Of course, it's important to balance household and child-rearing duties, find more time for sex and maintain open communication. "Spousonomics" addresses marriage by thinking at the margins. Sometimes that's enough.

But how can economics help with larger problems, such as when one spouse suspects infidelity or the other gambles away the couple's nest egg?

- Lisa Bonos


© 2011 The Washington Post Company