Innovation/Global Risk

Lovenomics, or, Not Fair! Men Are Happier, Women are Unhappier! Why?

By Shlomo  Maital



 Betsey, Justin and Matilda

As an economist, I am daily appalled at the bankruptcy of macro-economics (how to manage a national economy) and its inability to provide any creative solutions for Greece, Portugal, Ireland, UK or other countries in deep trouble.  At the same time, I am daily amazed at the creativity of micro-economics in shedding new light on individual behavior, with the help of anthropology, sociology and psychology. And I am incredulous about the severe schizophrenia of the discipline of economics, how one half can be so awful and the other, so interesting and relevant. 

   Here is an example.  Today’s Global New York Times reports on Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, U. of Pennsylvania economists, who are (according to Motoko Rich) the “go-to pair on the economics of marriage, divorce and child-rearing”, dubbed “lovenomics”,  while they themselves are a couple, with a 2 ½ year old,  named Matilda.  Their research sheds light on the economics of daily living.

    For example, their joint NBER paper (May 2009), “The paradox of declining female happiness” addresses the prickly question,  if women have closed the gap with men in education, income, wealth and other areas, in the past few decades,  why aren’t they happier?  True, in the past women in the UK and US reported being happier than men,    but the trend in white women’s happiness in the US is negative.  In fact, note the authors, today women throughout the industrialized world now report happiness below that of men!  

     Any ideas, readers, why this is so?   Is it because women’s increased opportunities have simply led to an increase in the amount of work women do?  Women are increasingly multi-taskers, while men single-task?  “Women may simply find the complexity and increased pressure in their modern livesto have come at the cost of happiness”, they conclude. 

   The couple have shown that people in rich countries are happier than those in poor countries (wow, surprise!), and that the divorce rate has been falling in America for decades (!), partly because fewer people are marrying in the first place, or because expectations about marriage have become more realistic.

   Their child Matilda has helped shape their research worldview.  Betsey Stevenson says she was put off by the fact that people with kids were less happy.  But they both take real delight in their daughter, and Wolfers says, about the joys of fatherhood, “it’s visceral, it’s real, it’s hormonal, and it’s not in our economic models.” 

    And Matilda pipes up, at dinner,  “Mama!  Stop talking about work.” 

   By the way: They are not formally married. American income tax law punishes married couples, who pay more taxes than if they were living together and unmarried.  That’s economics, too!