Nobel Marriage Advice

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Feb. 14 2011 4:17 PM

Nobel Marriage Advice

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KJ , I’m interested in Nobel Laureate Gary Becker’s approach to dividing household duties as told in the new book you cite, Spousonomics : "[H]is wife does more of the housework, he said. Since his time, on a monetary scale, is more valuable than hers, he spends more of it working in his office and less in the kitchen." It’s a good thing I’m not Mrs. Gary Becker because I might have been tempted to respond to my husband thusly: "I agree that with your superior brain should not be troubled with life’s drudgery. I will do the shopping and cooking and cleaning so you are freed to think great thoughts, darling. And here’s something-don’t know if it comes under "economics"-for you to contemplate: What’s the most efficient way for a Nobel-prize winner to remove a pot of spaghetti his wife dumps in his lap?"

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I’m sure there’s useful advice in a book that applies economic principles to marriage. You cite the authors’ observation that nagging is ineffective, which is hardly an original insight, but it’s good to be reminded that no one likes to be nagged  or be a nagger. (Although Amy Chua could cite counter-evidence that nagging and threats actually really work.) In the excerpt you mention, one of the authors was able to get her husband, who chronically left the kitchen cabinets open (what's that about?), to shut them by just shutting up about it.

The authors also believe in not dividing everything 50-50 but letting each partner "specialize" in their strength. In our household we definitely don’t do 50-50. Our division of labor consists of: My husband cleans up after dinner and also scoops the litterbox, and I do everything else. He may think this is an unfair characterization, if so I await his clarification when he gives his Nobel acceptance speech.  A problem, however, is that my husband does not like to scoop the litterbox (neither do I) and generally "forgets" this duty. So I either gently remind, "Have you had a chance to scoop yet?" Or I not so gently remind, "The cat crap is now falling on the floor." Or I nag: "This is the one of the few things you’ve agreed to do and you never do it." Or give up and do it myself. I have tried the authors’ recommendation of just letting it go and hoping non-nagging will work its magic. For a three-month period I said nothing about the litterbox. For three months my husband did nothing about the litterbox. Clearly he would have been content to let this new system-I scoop the litterbox and no longer hassle him about it-continue until our cats died.  Maybe the authors can ask Gary Becker if he likes to scoop.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column.