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'Parenting is a string of bargaining moves'

In their new book, <em>Spousonomics, </em>co-authors Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson apply economic and business principles to married life.

In their new book, Spousonomics, co-authors Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson apply economic and business principles to married life.

Are these ideas equally useful when it comes to parenting? They would know. Szuchman, an editor at the Wall Street Journal, has a daughter and Anderson, a reporter for the New York Times, has two.

In the book, you discuss ideas like a division of labour when doing chores, and evoke “supply and demand” in the bedroom. Are any of these concepts applicable to parent-kid relationships?
Sure. One thing that happens when people first have a kid is the comparative advantage in the child rearing departments ends up being with the mom, not the dad. That’s especially true if she’s breastfeeding, because then she has the absolute and comparative advantage in feeding the kid. And if she stays home and takes the maternity leave, then that reinforces the comparative advantage even more. Before you know it, you end up with this situation where the guy will just say “I don’t know how to do it.” If she does everything, she falls prey to becoming the default master of everything.

For a young couple, what’s the opportunity cost of having kids these days?
Well, the opportunity cost is whether or not to have kids. Once you have them, the opportunity cost is “romantic time.” If you studied economics, you could probably articulate this even better than I?can, but for every unit of value you get of the same thing, you get less value from it.

That reminds me of the opportunity cost graph for countries that’s often illustrated as a choice between “guns” and “butter.”
You mean like diapers versus date night?

Yes! What about collective bargaining for parents? Does it help to unionize?
When I was growing up, my parents were certainly about their united front. [Laughs] I had very little bargaining power. I hate my parents for that, but I also like them, so they must have done something right. Parenting is a string of bargaining moves.

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