Economics is about choice – and choices occur in all parts of our lives. One area is personal relationships. Are we making the best of our relationships with family, friends and sexual partners? Increasingly economists are examining human behaviour in such contexts and asking what factors determine our decisions and whether such decisions are rational.
A recent book looks at the economics of marriage and goes under the title of ‘Spousonomics‘. Its authors, Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, use economics “to master love, marriage and dirty dishes”. As they say:
Every marriage is its own little economy, a business of two with a finite number of resources that need to be allocated efficiently.
They look at ways in which such resources can be allocated efficiently. They also look at apparently irrational behaviour and seek to explain it in terms of various ‘failures’ (akin to market failures). They also examine how these failures can be rectified to improve relationships.
So is this economics stepping on the toes of relationship counsellors and psychologists? Or is this the legitimate domain of economists seeking to understand how to optimise in the context of scarce resources – including time and patience?
Spousonomics gets to heart of the matter Belfast Telegraph (19/1/11)
Run your marriage with ‘Spousonomics’: A new book says applying economic rules with transform your relationship Mail Online, Lydia Slater (31/1/11)
Spousonomics: How Economics Can Help Figure Out Your Marriage Book Beast (31/1/11)
Spousonomics Lesson #1: Loss Aversion YouTube (15/1/11)
Economist’s Explanation For Why Getting Married Isn’t Rational Huffington Post, Dan Ariely (15/1/11)
How Economics Saved My Marriage Newsweek, Paula Szuchman (30/1/11)
Want your marriage to profit? New York Post, Sara Stewart (29/1/11)
Spousonomics: blog, Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson
- How would you define ‘rational behaviour’ in a personal relationship?
- Why may marriage be a better deal generally for men than for women?
- Give some examples of asymmetry of information in marriage and why this may lead to bad decision making?
- Give some examples of risk averse and risk loving behaviour in personal relationships?
- Why are many actions in marriage apparently irrational? Could such actions be explained if the concept of ‘irrationality’ is redefined?
- Why may a simple demand curve help to explain why sexual relationships tend to wane in many marriages?
- Why does moral hazard occur in marriage? Does a combination or moral hazard and asymmetry of information help to explain divorce?
- Should marriage guidance counsellors study economics?!
Lord Browne of Madingley, the former chief executive of BP, has been conducting a review of higher education and its funding in England. The report was published on Tuesday 12 October. At present, student fees are capped at £3290 per year. From the academic year 2012/13 Browne recommends that the cap be removed, allowing universities to charge what they like (or what the market will bear). It is anticipated that, under these circumstances, universities would typically charge around £7000 per year, but some universities could charge much more – perhaps more than £12,000 for courses in high demand at prestigious universities. Universities would receive reduced funding from the government, through a new Higher Education Council, and the funding would vary by subject, with ‘priority’ subjects, such as science, technology and medicine, being given more. It is anticipated that total government funding for teaching to universities in England would be only just over 20% of the current level.
Browne recommends that universities that charge more than £6000 a year would have to pay a proportion of the extra income to the government as a levy for supporting poorer students. Those that charge more than £7000 would have to demonstrate that they were widening access.
Students would not need to pay any of the fees upfront (although they could do if they chose). Instead, they would receive a loan to cover the full fee. They would also be eligible for an annual loan of £3750 to cover living expenses. In addition, students from households with incomes below £25,000 would be eligible for a cost-of-living grant of £3250 on top of the loan. with household incomes above £25,000 the size of this grant would diminish, and disappear with household incomes above £60,000.
Students would begin paying back their loan after they graduate and are earning more then £21,000 per year (the current figure is £15,000). The amount that graduates would be required to pay back would rise sharply as earnings increase. For example, with an income of £30,000 per year, the graduate would be required to pay back £68 per month; with an income of £60,000 the monthly payment would be £293. Interest would accumulate on the unpaid balance at a rate equal to inflation plus 2.2%. For those earning below £21,000 threshold, it would accumulate at the rate of inflation only.
Not surprisingly, there have been mixed reactions to the recommendations from universities. Some universities have argued that competition will mean that they would not be allowed to charge the approximately £7000 fee that would be necessary to make up for the reduction in direct government funding. Predictions of closures of university departments or closures or mergers of whole universities are being made. Other universities have welcomed the ability to charge significantly higher fees to help their financial position.
The reactions from prospective students have been less mixed. With students starting in 2012 set to graduate with debts in excess of £30,000 and many with much higher debts, the Browne Review report makes bleak reading.
So who are the gainers and losers and what will be the benefits to higher education? The following articles look at the issues.
Note that the government has subsequently decided not to follow Browne’s recommendations fully. Annual fees will be capped at £9000 and the government expects that fees will typically be £6000.
Lord of the market: let competition and choice drive quality Times Higher Education, Simon Baker (14/10/10)
In the shake-up to come, no guarantees for anyone Times Higher Education (14/10/10)
Browne review: Universities must set their own tuition fees Guardian, Jeevan Vasagar and Jessica Shepherd (12/10/10)
Cable ‘endorses’ tuition fee increase plan BBC News (12/10/10)
Browne review at a glance Guardian, Jessica Shepherd (12/10/10)
Foolish, risky, lazy, complacent and dangerous NUS news, Aaron Porter (12/10/10)
Student debt: the £40k question for Lord Browne (includes two videos) Channel 4 News, Aaron Porter (8/10/10)
Blind spots in education proposals Financial Times letters, Philip Wales (14/10/10)
Tuition fees: securing a future for elitism Guardian, comment is free, Carole Leathwood (13/10/10)
NUS Scotland president Liam Burns condemns English tuition fee plans Courier (13/10/10)
Lord Browne review: round-up of reaction Telegraph (12/10/10)
University of Leeds responds to Lord Browne’s review of university funding Academia News (12/10/10)
Browne Review: Scrap university fees cap Chemistry World (12/10/10)
Invisible hand of market takes hold Financial Times (12/10/10)
A personal perspective on the Browne Review Progress Online, David Hall (12/10/10)
Tuition fee increases will be capped, says Nick Clegg BBC News (24/10/10)
Webcasts and podcasts
Students to face ‘unlimited fees’ BBC News, Nick Robinson (12/10/10)
Lord Browne interviewed by Nick Robinson BBC News (12/10/10)
Aaron Porter and Steve Smith on university funding and fees BBC Daily Politics (12/10/10)
University proposals create ‘two-tier system’ BBC Today Programme, Professors Roger Brown and Nicholas Barr (13/10/10)
The report and the NUS and IFS responses
Securing a sustainable future for higher education Independent Review (12/10/10)
Browne Review home page Independent Review
Initial Response to the Report of the Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance (the Browne Review) NUS, Aaron Porter (10/10/10)
Graduates and universities share burden of Browne recommendations Institute for Fiscal Studies (12/10/10)
- To what extent will the proposals in the Browne review result in a free market in university courses?
- To what extent will competition between universities drive up teaching quality?
- Identify any market failures that might prevent an efficient allocation of university resources?
- To what extent will Browne’s proposals result in a fair allocation of resources between graduates and non-graduates, and between those who graduate under the new system and those who graduated in the past?
- Identify any externalities involved in university education. In what ways might these externalities be ‘internalised’?
Most students have a student loan: you need it to live; to buy text books; to survive. So, what do you do if your student loan hasn’t appeared in your bank account? This is a problem that many students have been facing. The Student Loans Company said that even after most courses had started, 175,358 students had still not had their loan application processed. This represented 16% of applications. There are various reasons given for this delay, but one that appears more often is the current economic downturn. This has been a crucial factor in so many students being without the necessary finance to begin university. Another reason is that many documents have been misplaced. On the other hand, a spokesman for the Student Loans Company (SLC) said that actually delays this year were no worse than in previous years, even though this is the first year when students applied directly to the SLC. Does this suggest that actually the whole system of student loans is still inefficient and needs to be overhauled again? Is there a better method?
In order to help students, many universities have made emergency payments to those without their loans. What’s the opportunity cost of this money? Surely it could be used for other purposes. Universities have seen their highest ever number of applications, although there has been a drop in Scottish student numbers and there are suggestions that tuition fees will increase again. What are the implications of the problems with student loans and the massive increase in university applications?
Minister ‘sorry’ for student loan delays ePolitiX (15/10/09)
140,000 miss university places The Press Association (17/10/09)
Student loan firm explains delays BBC News (12/10/09)
Student loan delay hits 175,000 students Telegraph, Graeme Paton (9/10/09)
Enquiry to be held over late payments of student loans Guardian, Jessica Shepherd (13/10/09)
Watchdog fears over poor students BBC News (29/9/09)
Student tuition fees could increase Telegraph, Graeme Patton (14/10/09)
Student debt to soar Daily Express, Alison Little (14/10/09)
- Why has the recession had an impact on university applications?
- Should universities be able to set their own fees? What are the advantages and disadvantages of such a system? How could fees be determined?
- Primary and Secondary education is a merit good and free in the UK. What do we mean by a merit good and how can we illustrate the positive externalities associated with education? Why is higher education not free to the student? Aren’t there positive externalities associated with it?
- If tuition fees increase, student debt levels after graduation will be higher. What is the likely impact of this on the students themselves and on the economy?
- What the likely consequences for (a) students (b) universities of the delays in student loans?
The kibbutzes in Israel have always been renowned as a system where everything is evenly shared. However, with the news that Israel’s oldest Kibbutz has agreed to essentially privatise itself and start paying people according to ability, it seems that the reach of capitalism and the market system is now almost total. What alternative systems are left to organise and allocate resources? With most forms of socialist organisation more or less discredited as an efficient way of allocating resources, it seems that globalised capitalism is all that is left. However, in the article from the Guardian below Timothy Garton Ash argues that capitalism may, by its very nature destroy itself.
Global capitalism now has no serious rivals. But it could destroy itself Guardian (22/2/07)
Israel’s oldest Kibbutz votes for privatisation Guardian (20/2/07)
||Describe the changes that have taken place in the system used to allocate resources in the Degania kibbutz.
||Assess the reasons why the Degania kibbutz has decided to pay members according to ability.
||Discuss the validity of Timothy Garton Ash’s argument that global capitalism is in danger of destroying itself.