In recent years, I have been fascinated by some of the research being published social economics. I like the idea that some economists are interested in more than just capitalism and “the bottom line” (caveat – I have never taken an economics class, and I might be somewhat ignorant as to what most general economists write about), so when I heard about this book, I was excited to read it. The authors, Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, are journalists rather that economists, so I figured the economics portions of the book would be just technical enough to teach me something without losing me.
There is some risk in thinking you can learn a great deal about marriage by reading a book – just as our children socialize us to be parents, our spouses socialize us to be marital partners (for better or worse). That said, it is always valuable to hear different perspectives, and this book is full of information and examples from other married couples. I actually finished the book over a month ago, and I still find myself referring back to specific concepts that can hopefully help us achieve (maintain?) marital bliss.
To research this book the authors conducted a huge survey, where they surveyed and then interviewed hundreds of people all over the United States, asking them detailed and personal questions about their marriages. Throughout the book, we are presented with case studies taken from these interviews; sometimes informative, and other times uncomfortably voyeuristic, these vignettes certainly keep the book lively despite its grounding in economics.
Particularly for those who think that marriage is a one-time deal, and that making someone part of your family means that you are intimately attached to them for life or longer, it might be challenging to think about marriage as an economic partnership. We might think of our marriages as “too big to fail” much the way some gigantic corporations do (some think this even as they are about to crash horribly, taking employees and shareholders down with them – some do not recover from these often avoidable catastrophes). Even if we think there is a zero percent chance that our marriages will end badly, it is definitely worth it to do what we can to make our spouse’s lives (and, by extension, our own) as happy as we possibly can.
I actually finished reading this book over a month ago, and I can say that it has made me rethink some of my habits and decisions. Housework still gets away from me at times, and I’m pretty sure GB would be happier if I spent more time on the treadmill and less time shopping (the book talks about both of these issues). And I want for him to be happy, and proud to have me for a wife (please don’t take that in a sexist way – in an ideal world we should all be proud of our spouses, no?). As I write this, I rededicate myself to doing my part to make my home a happy place to be.
GB generously agreed to read this book with me and blog about it from his perspective. He did a great job on the one post he wrote, which was a big deal, considering he is not too keen on sharing his life in this way with the entire world (even though it’s a pretty small world mostly consisting of our parents and friends). Now that I’m finished with the book, I will hand it back to him to use as he sees fit. This might mean you will read more about it here, or not. I told him not to feel obligated – putting oneself “out there” in a blog, even one with a very small readership, can be an uncomfortable experience for many of us (and is hardly the way to make my husband happier if he is only doing it because I asked him to).
Most of my criticisms about the book are not worth mentioning, with two notable exceptions. The first one is about sex. It’s unsurprising that a book about marriage would include mention of this topic, but these authors managed to overdo it. Not only did they devote an entire chapter to sex (the title was “Supply and Demand” – haha), they found as many opportunities as possible to turn the discussion in this direction. Most of the time it seemed as though they were trying to be funny – they did not succeed. Some of their quips actually made me feel embarrassed for them.
My other major annoyance is that the authors made it plainly obvious (and I’m sure this was unintentional) that the book was written for middle- to upper-middle class people. They did not really cover marriages of people who are so stressed out with trying to put food on the table that they probably do not have the luxury to complain about their less-than-perfect spouse. They also managed to include an unfunny joke about gentrification and several examples of “free spirits” (read “freeloaders”), all of which I found to be appalling.
Despite these missteps, I am not one to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so I recommend this book to anyone who wants to improve their relationship with their spouse or significant other. You might learn a few things about economics which may help you better understand some of the shenanigans major corporations engage in these days (given my lack of education in economics, I cannot vouch for their accuracy in this area, but you can probably learn enough economic theory to get you through a dinner party, at least). The book will also give you plenty to think about that can help improve your marriage or relationship, or keep it humming smoothly if you are already (or still) in a state of happy marital bliss (and you will learn about how these things can be cyclical – not unlike housing bubbles, so you don’t freak out when it’s not all roses and sunshine as time goes on).
Scroll down for other posts about Spousonomics:
Part 1: Spousonomics, by Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson
Part 2: Yoga and Over-Cooked Chicken
Part 3: Unpacking my Suitcases
Part 4: Don’t Lecture Me
Part 5: Games and Bubbles
GB Part 1: Post-privacy and Marriage