I was probably the perfect captive audience for Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson’s new book, Spousonomics, which goes on sale tomorrow. I read my review copy on a cross-country flight to San Francisco where I’m spending a few weeks doing writerly things without my husband.
I’d have read this book anywhere, though. 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.
A lot of the economic theories they apply to marital situations are not just cute but also right on. They use comparative advantage — the principle behind free trade — to demonstrate that couples should split up household chores according to each partner’s strengths and preferences, not “fairly” down the middle.
Ultimately, though, the economic principles are a conceit: a fun way to get some solid relationship advice across. A lot of the book could be boiled down to:
- Stop keeping score.
- Have more sex.
- Let it go. (Whatever it is: your spouse’s annoying habit of farting at dinner, forgetting the laundry, screwing up the budget, whatever.)
What Spousonomics offers are some creative and smart ideas for how to do those things.
But neither the economic theory lessons nor the relationship lessons they’re linked to are this books real gold mine — it’s the case studies. Szuchman and Anderson, with the help of a polling company, interviewed over a thousand people about their marriages. Many of these interviews were done in person, over drinks.
Most of the pages of Spousonomics are filled with the details of these interviews. They present a problem a couple is struggling with and then a solution based on economics — things like how to split up childcare while a spouse is in medical school or how to heal a rift after a couple has separated. Some couples adopt patently economic solutions, like creating a marketplace for sex in exchange for favors between them. Others use the economic principles to stop striving for fairness and let go of each other’s imperfections.
What is awesome is getting to see so many real live marriages in action. I have never felt less lonely as a married person than while reading this book. It’s like being invited to rummage through the dirty laundry of dozens of people and see that everyone else wears their socks three days in a row, too.
These people have real problems in their marriages. Not textbook problems. Real, detailed problems. The human stories make the solutions seem more real. Here’s another couple that figured out how to have hot sex after having two kids! And here’s one that fought bitterly over the husband’s forgetfulness, until they applied economics to their arrangement. I could do that too!
The other great strength of this book — and the thing that makes the case studies so powerful — is that it’s very funny. Who wants to read a serious book about economics and marriages? Not me! Happily, not the authors of Spousonomics either. They’ve written a funny, honest book that should be a must-read for anyone who is married or wants to be.
Photo: Random House