Household work and comparative advantage

I must say, I really enjoy the thoughtful writing about gender and society in “The Sexes” section of The Atlantic on-line.  A couple of recent posts about the division of housework both brought me to the same conclusion– the key to a happy division of housework is comparative advantage.  First, some anthropology professors summarize some of their recent findings:

Among couples we studied, on average, men worked longer hours outside the home, yet even in families where women worked equivalent or longer hours and earned higher salaries they still took on more household responsibilities. When our data were merged with the Chicago Sloan Study of 500 working families, we learned that men spent 18 percent of their time doing housework and took on 33 percent of household tasks, whereas women spent 22 percent of their time on housework and carried out 67 percent of household tasks. Women performed over twice the number of tasks and assumed the burden of “mental labor” or “invisible work,” that is, planning and coordination of tasks. Moreover, leisure was most frequent for fathers (30 percent) and children (39 percent) and least frequent for mothers (22 percent)…

Among the couples we studied, mutually shared understandings of responsibilities minimized the need for spouses to evaluate and manage one another’s task-related behaviors. These understandings enabled partners to fulfill their household duties with the knowledge that established boundaries would be not be crossed. Demands were few, disengagement in the face of demands was unnecessary, and partners were more likely to feel respected for the contributions they made. Conflict was more prevalent when couples had not worked out a clear division of labor in the home and had to renegotiate responsibilities from one day to the next.

And plenty, plenty more interesting information.  If you are married and you and your spouse struggle at all with issues of the division of household labor, you should definitely read it.

And then I read yesterday, this Andy Hinds piece on how to divide household chores based on who cares the most:

Finally, Bradner’s suggestion that couples try to divide the labor in each category of tasks down the middle is highly impractical, and would lead to its own set of tensions. (In fact, I’m not sure she’s being literal about the half-and-half idea, because it’s just too crazy.) Since, in most cases, one person cares more about a given category than the other, that person will be more skillful and efficient at it. It would make no sense for me to demand that my wife do half of the household repairs, since it would take forever and I would have to coach her through it and then probably go back and re-fix it. Likewise, it would make no sense for my wife to demand that I do half of the monthly financial chores, since I have no head for money.

The best we can do, if we want to literally track our labor, is to decide which tasks are essential, divide them according to who cares most about what, and then keep track of the cumulative hours we spend on our designated categories (which would have to include paid work outside of the home, of course). Where imbalances arise, as they will, the person who cares most about, say, the laundry, can assign time-consuming unskilled tasks that she cares less about (folding) to her partner.

Now, Hinds never comes right out and says it, but it seems to me he’s getting pretty close to a theory of comparative advantage of household labor.  In short everybody gains when each party concentrates on what they do best (and/or care they most about– presumably the two are related).  The wikipedia page on comparative advantage is actually a nice summary with examples.  Not to suggest that the Greene household is perfect, but this is pretty much the approach we take (though, without really focusing too much on time).  I hate folding laundry and am incredibly slow at it.  Thus, I rarely do it except when things are really overflowing.  Kim, in contrast, generally doesn’t mind it so much.  Kim hates doing the dishes.  I don’t really mind it all that much.  Hence, but for very rare occasions  I always do the dishes.  I don’t think Kim particularly likes doing all the finances, but I hate dealing with money stuff, so she handles that.  I love walking the dog and don’t mind being responsible for food and water, so I see to it the dog gets walked and fed every day.  I could go on, and I’m sure we’re not perfect (and I’ve probably got the better end of the bargain).  But we really have very little conflict about household chores (except when that laundry really piles up) and I think it’s becuase we essentially have a comparative advantage approach that ends up being pretty much win-win.

Photo of the day

In Focus presents finalists from the Smithsonian 2012 photo contest.  Lots of fabulous images.  If you are a photo lover, definitely check out the whole set:

“Exploring the Night” A lone hiker viewed the path before him as the Milky Way rose in the night sky above Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Taken by Jason Hatfield, Lakewood, Colorado, in May of 2012. (©

Ideology and IQ


Been having a lot of fun running models on GSS data lately.  I especially enjoy the “wordsum” variable– an eight-item vocabulary test which is not a bad proxy (not great, but not bad) for IQ.  There’s actually a decent bit written about this, which I haven’t really dived into all that deeply, but I think one of the key factors is to have adequate controls.

Anyway, I came up with this model based on other analyses I was already doing.  More conservative values are coded more highly, so we see here that becoming more conservative– with a bunch of controls– leads to lower vocabulary scores.

This is also a great example of statistical vs. substantive significance.  The coefficient is clearly statistically significant by standard approaches, p=.035, but the substantive impact really isn’t all that great.   Moving from extreme liberal to extreme conservative results in .3 less words on an 8 word scale– that’s something, but not exactly earth-shattering.

Anyway, I do think the whole thing is interesting and will probably play around more with this at some point.


Paranoid delusional fantasy as a basis for public policy (yes, guns)

So, yesterday’s class topic was “smarter gun control policy.”  You know what we really need to do?  Keep legally purchased guns from quickly becoming illegal guns in the hands of bad guys.  How?  For one– we absolutely need to dramatically reduce straw purchasers who purchase guns from gun shops (all they want) and then re-sell them to bad guys.  The penalties for this are way too low; enforcement is therefore way too minimal; and law enforcement is hamstrung because of the poor data (mandated by the NRA lobby) on gun purchases.  So, basically, we need background checks on all gun sales, and to go along with that, we really need tougher laws and tougher enforcement on gun trafficking.  If you really and truly want to keep guns out of the hands of “bad guys” but still allow the “good guys” (who presumably will pass a background check), this is what you do.  Will some people be inconvenienced?  Absolutely.  Will fewer people be victims of gun violence?  Absolutely– I’ll make the trade.

So, why aren’t we doing this?  Well, because if we actually keep data on gun sales before you know it the government is going to come and take your guns away!  Or something like that.  From yesterday’s NYT piece on the vote in a Senate committee:

The first measure, which would expand the use of background checks to private gun sales, passed 10 to 8, with no Republican voting yes. Another bill, offered by Senator Barbara Boxer of California, enjoyed bipartisan support…

But the bill’s main sponsor, Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, has had trouble finding a Republican to join him and bring others along. He initially seemed to find support from Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who walked away over disagreements about record keeping in private sales; Mr. Schumer says such records, already kept in gun store transactions, are needed to make the checks meaningful, but Mr. Coburn fears they will lead to a gun registry.

Mr. Grassley gave voice to those worries during the hearing on Tuesday, saying there was “no way to enforce a requirement without a registry.” While noting that such a registry is prohibited under federal law, he added that the government could move to repeal that law and that the “next move will be gun confiscation.”  [emphasis mine]

Give me a break!!  The government is going to take our guns away right after Obama announces that he really is a socialist and will be nationalizing all of our industries.  And heck, there’s no 2nd amendment stopping him from doing that.  This is just pure, paranoid, delusional fantasy.  Period.  So, instead of making our gun laws on an even half-rational basis, we are making them on the basis of paranoid, delusional fantasy that has gripped the NRA, the gun nuts, and the legislators of (predominantly) a single political party.  Welcome to policy in America.

Also loved Tomasky’s take on this:

The Senate Judiciary Committee just approved legislation requiring stricter gun background checks. The vote was along strict party lines, with all Republicans voting no

poll came out this morning showing 91 percent of Americans approve stricter gun background checks.

Um…I just don’t see that anything else needs to be said here. Shortest post ever. Madness.

Well, my take was a little bit longer.  But madness indeed.

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