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?!
Skin cancer is on the increase in the UK. Calls are thus being made by both retailers and cancer charities for a cut in VAT on sun cream.
At present the VAT rate on sun cream in the UK is the standard rate of 17.5%, which is due to increase to 20% in January 2011. But would cutting the rate to 5%, as is being proposed, be effective in cutting skin cancer rates? What information would you, as an economist, need to assess this claim?
Government urged to cut VAT on sun cream amid skin cancer fears Guardian, Rebecca Smithers (27/7/10)
Brits Get Burned By Vat Rise On Suncream PRLog (7/7/10)
Why we still think bronzing is tan-tastic Irish Independent, Susan Daly (27/7/10)
Evidence on sun creams
Sun creams Cancer Research UK
- What would determine the incidence of a cut in VAT on sun creams between consumers and retailiers?
- If there were a 50:50 incidence of a VAT cut between consumers and retailers and the VAT was cut from 17.5% to 5%, what percentage fall in the retail price would you expect?
- Assume that the price elasticity of demand for sun cream is –1 and price elasticity of supply is +1, how much would sales of sun cream rise if the VAT rate fell from 17.5% to 5%? Are these realistic values for the price elasticity of demand and supply?
- Under what circumstances may promoting the use of sun creams encourage the development of skin cancer?
- Are people being rational if they choose to expose themselves to the sun for long periods in order to receive a ‘fashionable’ tan? How are time preference rates (personal discount rates) relevant here?
- What market failures are involved in the tanning industry? If the use of sunbeds contributes towards skin cancer, should they be banned?
This podcast is from BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme. It consists of an interview with James Berresford, chief executive of VisitEngland, and Tracy Corrigan, of the Daily Telegraph on the topic of ‘staycations’ – a term used to refer to people holidaying at home rather than going abroad. Staycations are up, but why is this the case; how much have people switched; and is it really a cheaper option?
More people holidaying in England BBC Today Programme (27/8/09)
See also the following articles:
Unemployment Up In Seaside Resorts Despite Era Of The ‘Staycation’ Fresh Business Thinking (22/8/09)
Unemployment up in seaside resorts despite era of the ‘staycation’ TUC (21/8/09)
Haven Holidays sees rise in caravan sales Times Online (26/8/09)
‘Staycation’ Britons reconsider their holiday plans The National (Abu Dhabi) (28/8/09)
Recession-hit Britons abandon foreign holidays in favour of ‘staycations’ Guardian (13/8/09)
Bad weather puts paid to the Great British Staycation Independent on Sunday (22/8/09)
The following are useful sources of evidence:
Visits to the UK up 4 per cent Office for National Statistics News Release (13/8/09)
1.2 Million More Holidays Taken In England As Brits Take Breaks Closer To Home enjoyEngland (7/8/09)
11.9 million Brits to take U.K break this Bank Holiday enjoyEngland (26/8/09)
- What are the determinants of demand for staycations? How have these impacted on the demand for staycations in the UK in summer 2009?
- How are the (a) price; (b) income and (c) cross-price elasticities of demand for staycations relevant in determining the demand for staycations?
- Why is imperfect information an important problem in making a decision about where to take a holiday and how do risk attitudes affect the decision?
- Why has unemployment risen more than the UK national average in many seaside towns?
When anyone buys assets – shares, a house, a car or whatever – one important consideration is their likely future value. But the future is uncertain. Your decision to buy, therefore, depends not just on the direct return of the asset (the rate of interest or the pleasure from using the asset) but also on your predictions about the future value of the asset and your attitudes to risk. But with the future of markets so uncertain, or at least the timing of market movements, what’s the best thing to do? The article below considers some of the issues.
The irrelevant future Investors Chronicle (6/4/09)
- Distinguish between ‘risk’ and ‘uncertainty’.
- What is meant by a ‘bear’ in the context of investing in shares? Explain why ‘intelligent bears’ would ‘leave some money in the market’.
- Faced with uncertainty, why might sticking to a simple ‘do nothing’ rule be the best policy?
- If capital markets were efficient in the strongest sense, where everyone has perfect information about the future, would people be able to make large returns on investing in shares and other assets?
Times of economic uncertainty often lead to people seeking what they consider as ‘safe havens’ for their money. Traditionally gold has been one of these safe havens. This financial crisis has been no exception and the price of gold has risen, but there has also been a rapid growth in demand for gold bullion and gold coins and dealers have found themselves besieged by people looking to protect their savings. ATS Bullion, a London gold bullion dealer, has even seen queues: something quite unprecedented for them.
There’s gold in them thar’ shops: the rush is on Guardian (2/10/08)
Austria witnesses new gold rush BBC News Online (12/10/08)
Gold rush as investors pile into bars Financial Times (3/10/08)
Market turmoil sparks gold rush to specialist funds Times Online (13/10/08)
||What the main determinants of demand for gold coins and gold bullion?
||Using diagrams as appropriate, show the changes that have taken place in the market for gold coins in recent months.
||Discuss the extent to which the supply of gold bullion is likely to keep up with the rapid growth in demand.