Love, Economics Style

ImageThis Valentine’s Day, I can’t help but think about all the economists who’ve been struck by Cupid’s arrow. Sure, charming blog posts joke about the “14 Ways to Say I Love You to An Economist” (hint: they’re all graphs), and popular books attempt to make statistical tools more titillating by applying them to romance.

But believe it or not, real sparks do fly in our dismal science. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of notable econ couples from across the methodological and ideological spectrum:

Milton and Rose Friedman are perhaps the most famous economist couple. They met in 1932 in graduate school at the University of Chicago. Their marriage lasted more than six decades and produced two children, four grandchildren, not to mention several highly influential economics texts, including Capitalism and Freedom (1962) and Free to Choose (1980). They even co-authored a memoir, Two Lucky People, which touches on their personal relationship, as well as the political and intellectual history that they helped shape. While I take issue with much of the Friedmans’ work on economic and political grounds, I can’t but help but find their lives together charming.

—Speaking of intellectual giants, Joan Robinson—whom I consider the Patron Saint of all Lady Economists—is referred to in many classic economic papers as “Mrs. Robinson.” She was married to Austin Robinson, also an economist at the University of Cambridge, and a close associate of John Maynard Keynes.

Ellen Mutari and Deborah M. Figart, co-authors of “Women and the Economy: A Reader” (2003) are an important couple in feminist economics. Theirs was the first domestic partnership sanctioned by their New Jersey town, in 2004.

New York Times columnist and Princeton University professor Paul Krugman is married to Robin Wells, an economist. (Back in 2010, The New Yorker published an interesting article about their life and collaboration.)

—The Times refers to Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers as the go-to pair on lovenomics” because they co-publish on the economics of families and marriage. The two University of Michigan professors have decided to remain unmarried, in order to avoid the “marriage penalty” of higher income taxes they’d fork over if they officially tied the knot.

Christina Romer, the chief architect of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (also known as the “stimulus package”),is married to David Romer, author of the widely-used Advanced Macroeconomics textbook. The two both teach at the University of California at Berkeley—and according to Wikipedia (which seems to have anticipated this piece), “they have adjoining offices in the department,and collaborate on much of their research.”

—Love blooms in the heterodoxy, just as it does in the mainstream. Codrina Rada Von Arnim and Rudiger Von Arnim, who both received their Ph.D.’s in economics from the New School for Social Research, are now professors at the University of Utah.

Of course, this is but a small sample of highly accomplished economic lovebirds. (I haven’t even gotten to Janet Yellen and George Akerlof, or Teresa Ghilarducci and Rick McGahey.) Which leads us to a question that was posed a while back on the New Economist blog: “Do partners in the same profession have higher joint productivity, compared to couples with differing careers?” Are these power couples proof that partnering with another economist (who, by the look of this list, is likely to become a co-author) is advantageous?

This seems to fly in the face of University of Chicago economist Gary Becker’s seminal work, A Theory of Marriage, which argues that each partner should specialize in tasks for which they have a comparative advantage—earning income, say, vs. taking care of a home. (Then again, Gary Becker is married to the historian Guity Nashat, and the two of them have acted as co-authors, too.) What happens when both partners specialize in economics, and in the case of many of the couples listed above, in the same disciplinary subfield?

For ambitious couples, pursuing dual careers in a highly competitive labor market like academia presents many challenges. For advice on handling potential struggles, see “Navigating the Job Market as Dual Career Economists,” a newsletter from the American Economics Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession.

In the case of heterosexual couples, there are significant gender implications. Recent research suggests that marriage adversely affects the earnings of female economists, while the earnings of male economists are positively affected. This dismal news isn’t unique to the dismal science, and it suggests that even for couples with similar training, men’s careers are often still privileged over those of women. Researchers from The Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University found that more than 50 percent of men in dual-career academic couples (not just in economics) said their career was “primary,” whereas only 20 percent of women assessed their work in the same way. (For some comic relief on the question of marriage between dismal scientists read “Should Economists Marry Economists? by the Grinnell College econ couple Mark Montgomery and Irene Powell.)

Relationships, like business cycles, are prone to turbulent booms and busts, and so rarely (if ever) reach a static state of perfect equilibrium. But on this Consumerist Day of Love, a holiday that must have been dreamed up by an economist, let’s be “cautiously optimistic” about coupledom and imagine the many budding romances between economists at colleges and universities around the world.

On that note, I dedicate this post to my Valentine, a true worldly philosopher, whom I admire for investigating questions of real economic importance with methodological integrity, insight, and intuition. I feel lucky to call such a talented economist my partner, colleague, and friend.

This post originally appeared on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Vitae blog.

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