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Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes Hardcover – February 8, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 86 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A Letter from Co-author Jenny Anderson

When I told my husband I was thinking about writing a book about marriage, specifically a book that used economic principles to resolve common conflicts, he reacted as if I’d asked suggested we take up sea kayaking. “Sounds cool,” he said.

At the time, I was eight months pregnant with our first kid and working as a business reporter at the New York Times. It was 2008 and the financial world was falling apart. I was working 12 hour days, and we were all hoping I wouldn’t go into labor in the newsroom. But somehow in spite of this, I was convinced that writing a book was not just a good idea, but a fantastic family undertaking. I’d learn more about successful marriages! I’d become an amateur economist! I’d come up with all sorts of cool tricks to getting what I wanted. What genius!

Talk about overconfidence. In It's Not You, It's the Dishes [editor's note: this book was originally published as Spousonomics], Paula Szuchman, my co-author, and I write that overconfidence contributes not just to booms and busts in the wider economy, but booms and busts in marriage, too. Overconfidence is what causes CEOs of major corporations--think Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers--to blow up their firms: They didn’t plan for the worst because they thought they were too smart to drive their banks into the ground. Similarly, overconfidence drives couples to assume they will be together forever and then fail to take into account how much strain certain events--say, a baby, a full-time job and a book--might put on their relationship.

Chalk that one up to inexperience. I hadn’t yet started my research into the world of marriage and economics. But the more Paula and I researched the latest thinking in economics, while simultaneously interviewing hundreds of couples across the country about their own marriages, the more we realized just how much economics has to teach us about making marriage work. We were learning how to divide labor more efficiently, how sex comes down to a simple question of supply and demand, and how a smart incentive can get your spouse to do almost anything you want (almost).

We even hit on some anger-management techniques. When Paula and her husband would discuss something--say, why he’s incapable of signaling before making a left turn--Paula sometimes felt inclined to argue all night if he didn’t immediately concede that she was right about all his flaws. That’s because she was taught never to go to bed angry. So she’d amp it up until her husband would fall asleep, and she was apoplectic. “Woman, we need our sleep,” he’d say, rolling over and leaving her in a smoldering heap of fury.

At first she thought this “going to sleep” was heresy. But then she wrote a chapter about a concept in behavioral economics called “loss aversion,” meaning our strong dislike of losing. She learned we hate losing so much that we have to win $200 to make up for the pain of losing $100. Traders who are losing bet the house, for example (there’s a reason pawn shops are conveniently located next to casinos). Similarly, when Paula was losing in an argument with her husband, she dug in her heels and kept trying to win at all costs. She’s not alone: In our research, we found that two-thirds of married couples keep fighting even when they know it’s “a losing battle.”

Paula learned that a better approach was actually sleeping on it. After all, was she fighting about the turn signals or was it her loss aversion kicking in? So she’d go to bed angry and see how she felt in the morning. If she still cared, she could have a rational conversation about it. If she didn’t--and often she didn’t--well then, both she and her husband got some much-needed sleep. Another bonus: She could cut back on the tally of regrettable-things-said in the wee hours of the morning when winning is really the only objective.

I recall my husband’s original enthusiasm about the book with a twinge of nostalgia. We didn’t know our marriage would be put through the wringer, or that I’d have two kids during the writing of the book (Paula had one, too, bringing the offspring total to three). But in the end, my overconfidence was not totally misplaced. I did learn a lot of new tricks. I have a better toolkit. And so does my husband.


Praise for Spousonomics

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.”--Lisa Bonos, The Washington Post
“Apply economic principles to marriage and you will be happier is the message —and the more you think about it, the more it makes perfect sense.... Thinking of your marriage not as a love affair that is slowly getting buried under layers of family responsibilities, but as a start-up business that is adding skills by the day, makes everything look completely different. Rosy, even. And pretty sexy. Try it.”--Shane Watson, The Sunday Times
“Just in time for Valentine’s, two journalists, Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, have endeavored to show you the way. In their book Spousonomics—complete with a big heart with a pie chart in it on the cover—they promise to teach you how to use economics ‘to master love, marriage, and dirty dishes.’ The book starts with two basic premises. First, relationships exist in a world with scarce resources: time, money, humor, patience, breakfast cereal. Second, the field of economics has a lot to say about worlds with scarce resources. Szuchman and Anderson describe 10 big economic principles and many more small ones to recognize or apply at home in service of a better relationship. ‘By thinking like an economist, you can have a marriage that not only takes less work, but that feels like a vacation from work,’ the book promises.”--Annie Lowrey, Slate.com
“Spousonomics pretty much nailed it. Authors Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, journalists from The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, respectively, propose treating your marital union the same way you’d treat any other business: As an operation that can only succeed if its limited resources are effectively allocated....What I love most about Spousonomics: The authors are funny, smart and relatable--and the advice isn’t just designed to make both parties happy, it’s also simple enough to work. Even if your marriage isn’t operating in the (emotional) red, consider this book a great investment.” --Jenna McCarthy, iVillage
“It’s funny, smart and breaks down complex ideas about economics and relationships into easy-to-digest anecdotes about who does the dishes and how often married folks get laid. These are authors who are unafraid to drop an F-bomb and can also tackle big words like ‘intertemporal’ without breaking a sweat. The basic premise of Spousonomics is that we can apply economy theory to our marriages, and make them better in the process. They promise readers improved marriages with more sex, less strife and smoother handling of everything from bills to bedtime routines. Sounds impressive, right? It is. The authors interviewed dozens of married couples, as well as experts in economics and relationships. They know what they’re talking about.”--Sierra Black, Babble.com
“Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson say if you only treated your marriage like the business partnership that it is, many of those issues just might solve themselves. It's behavioral finance for the bedroom and beyond. And it is both helpful and hilarious.”
--Tess Vigeland, Marketplace
"The book is grounded in solid research, makes economics entertaining, and might just save a marriage or two."--James Pressley, Bloomberg
Spousonomics is one of the most delightful, clever, and helpful books about marriage I’ve ever seen.”—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed
Practical, compelling, and hilarious, Spousonomics highlights economics-based strategies for couples coping with the inevitable annoyances of a relationship. How can you coax him to do chores without nagging? Or change her mind about important decisions, quit yelling at the kids, or step away from the computer? The minute I finished this book, I started to experiment on my husband.”—Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project
"Spousonomics is a brilliant and innovative book. And if you’re a rational consumer, you really have to buy it: A few bucks to improve your marriage? That’s just good decision making."
– A.J. Jacobs, bestselling author of The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically
"This book – by suggesting that people are not rational, but irrational – turns our thinking about relationships on its head. A stimulating, must read for all of us who want to better understand and improve our love lives."
– John Gottman, bestselling author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
"Spousonomics delivers: Two accomplished journalists master a fascinating body of research I'd been hoping to learn more about, then weave it into a narrative that's a pure pleasure to read. Bravo."
– Robert H. Frank, Professor of Economics at Cornell University, and author of The Economic Naturalist and The Winner-Take-All Society
 "Spousonomics lets you peer into other people's relationships, with valuable lessons for your own. A fun and breezy read for anyone who wants to be both smarter about economics and wiser about love."
– Steven Landsburg, author of The Armchair Economist and More Sex is Safer Sex
"Spousonomics offers couples real life, common sense solutions for some of the knottiest conflicts regularly experienced in marriage. Written with great wit and understanding, it is both very helpful and a pleasure to read. I recommend it highly."
– John. W. Jacobs, M.D., author of All You Need Is Love And Other Lies About Marriage

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (February 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385343949
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385343947
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #910,744 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dave Schwartz VINE VOICE on January 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Spousonomics is another addition to the growing popular economics literature that makes concepts like division of labor, comparative advantage, and information asymmetry digestible for a lay audience. As such, its publication is a good thing: after all, the more people know about how societies handle scarcity, the better. This book's hook is that it attempts to apply economic theory to marital relations...and, as the authors repeatedly point out, that means ALL marital relations.

With ten chapters, each focused around a single idea from economics (to the three listed above, add also loss aversion, moral hazard, and several others), the authors show the reader how, by applying lessons learned from economists, they can have a better marriage-and, as they point out more than once, more sex. Each chapter has a similar format: the authors explain the concept using both textbook phraseology (although there's blessedly little of that) and examples from real life, then present several "case studies" that show how different couples actually confront the issue the chapter illuminates.

As an introduction to economic ideas it's not bad, and it might get you thinking about how you make decisions and relate to your spouse and children in a different way. Many of the couples profiled, however, were not easy to empathize with, to put it politely; some seemed downright annoying. Also, a lot of the spouses seemed...stereotypical, with the hubby obsessed by "the game" and loafing around, and the wife doing all the housework, or with one a workaholic and the other a free spirit. In the course of researching the book, the authors talked to more than two thousand people, so this might just be what they found. Maybe most people (or most people in their sample) really are that predictable.
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I very much looked forward to reading "Spousonomics", as I have degrees and interest in both economics and counseling, plus have been married over 40 years.

As expected, the book achieves two good purposes: serving as an introduction to economics while also providing sound relationship advice.

Unexpectedly (considering economics is nicknamed "the dismal science"), the book is also quite funny and often sexy.

I was surprised how much I learned, and at the relevance of the advice. It's also an easy and pleasant read.

The chapter titles illustrate the pleasures in store for readers:
Division of Labor - or, why you should do the dishes
(I particularly appreciated the explanation of comparative advantage - why it's best to share household chores, even when one spouse is better at all of them.)

Loss Aversion - or, the upside of going to bed angry
(Their 24 hour rule to see if we still feel the same tomorrow is useful in the same way as Dave Ramsey's 30 day delay rule for desired purchases, to see if we still want the same thing.)

Supply and Demand - or, how to have more sex
(It was here I finally noticed both authors are women.)

And so on for seven more delightful chapters on Moral Hazard, Incentives, Trade-offs, Asymmetric Information, Inter-temporal Choice. Bubbles, and Game Theory.

If you have any interest in either economics or improved relationships, you really can't go wrong with this excellent book.

Highly recommended.
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As a fan of Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics, I was very excited when I saw this book. As it turned out, this book is very much in that same vein. Using a great deal of humor and a lot of diverse examples, the authors show us how you can apply the simple rules of economics to your most significant relationship and (hopefully) improve.
The examples are fun and sometimes a little silly, but they really get your attention. After well over a decade of marriage, there are many of these situations I have personally experienced, even if they were only for a short time. We have found our own ways around some of these issues and it is interesting to me that some of them mirror what is found in the book.

I enjoy getting my facts in fun ways and having a book I can read in bits and pieces. I could pick it up and put it down at will, but I found myself coming back quickly for more and more info. If you like that sort of book, then this may be something you would also enjoy.
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Another book I heard about on NPR's Marketplace. The authors have a very well thought out book. Although I thought the book was tad long and boring at parts. Overall, I liked it. But I did find it difficult to put the many idea into practice. Maybe because I'm a stay at home mom or perhaps because my husband didn't read the book. I would still suggest the book because it is a new and fun to look at marriage.
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Began reading the book and quickly got bored - perhaps because the first chapter dealt with a situation like I am currently experiencing? Perhaps - but some solutions are easier said than done. Have not finished the book but carry it with me in case I get stuck in an elevator or a long bus/train ride.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Apparently trying to leverage the popularization of economic theory stemming from the "Freakonomics" series, Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson offer a breezy and superficial attempt to apply economics to the challenges of marriage.

Even with a modest stab at legitimate survey techniques (the only feature that elevates this review to two stars), this book fails to deliver on the solid connection it claims between economics and marriage.

Compounding the problem are the couples used as exemplars in the numerous case studies. Overall, they can be charitably described as self-absorbed (sometimes individually, but often collectively). One example: the divorced woman who turned to online dating service, and claimed more than a hundred dates in a year. Two dates a week is an aggressive agenda for anybody, and there are probably some conclusions other than economic that can be reached based on this rate of "dating".

The book contains an overemphasis on sex as a commodity in marriage, and some of the sidebar discussions about symptoms of issues in a marriage may have seemed funny or cute to the authors, but are in questionable taste.

The authors will garner some talk show face time and will no doubt be hearing them banter with morning drive-time radio hosts in several markets. Here's my economic advice: Give those those six to ten minute interludes some of your attention. You'll get everything you need from that brief exposure when this book gets hawked, and save yourself the money and time you'd invest in buying and reading it. Then, if you're married, buy your spouse a bouquet with the savings: that's a sound economic decision you won't regret.
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