appeared in the Newsletter of the
Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession,
American Economics Association, October 1992.)
Economists Marry Economists?
Mark Montgomery and Irene Powell
It is increasingly common these days for young economists to choose a spouse
from among their fellow graduate students. This is not surprising.
Romances bloom naturally in graduate school for the same reason that lifelong
friendships form in places like Dunkirk and Iwo Jima. Is it a good idea
for two economists to marry? We, the authors, have logged twelve years of
marriage, nine of them as colleagues in the same Economics department. In
this essay we consider whether marrying another economist is a tragic
professional mistake, or merely a very bad idea.
We begin with the obvious: marry another economist and your spouse's salary is approximately as lousy as your own. If you are both academics that can be very lousy indeed. Your first house will be no bigger than the one Snow White came across while wandering in the forest; as you wait patiently outside the door of its single bathroom you'll think back to those happy days as a grad student and ask yourself, "why didn't I crash parties at the medical school while there was still time?" Of course when we say that your spouse's salary will be as lousy as your own, we are implicitly assuming that you will both have jobs. Fortunately, as economists you and your spouse should have little trouble finding two jobs, unless you get fussy and insist they be on the same continent.
But let's admit that money isn't everything. (We may be relaxing a Chicago School assumption here.) Surely, you say, marrying a fellow economist improves both job satisfaction and home life by melding the personal and professional aspects of your existence. True. Unless you marry an economist you will have few opportunities to use works like "heteroskedasticity" at the dinner table. Still, having two economists in the home has a warping effect on household discussions. Here is an example,
You: "I've done the dishes every night this week - it's your turn.
Spouse: "What a shame to waste all the human capital you've built up."
And even more than most couples, you will have arguments about money:
"You're crazy; there is no way MI could be falling."
And it's not only your relationship that gets strange. Let us suppose that you and your spouse both want children. (We are now relaxing another assumption - that all agents are rational.) It is just possible that being raised by two economist can make a kid slightly ... well .... weird. For example, at the age of two the authors' daughter -- this is true -- would take paper and pencil in hand and announce "I'm working with my data. " Of course one might point out that we can all name a prominent economist who had two economists for parents. But this is reassuring only if you regard prominence in economics as a special case of not-being-weird. Most people don't.
Even if marrying another economist does complicate one's personal life, surely, you will ask, must it not offer enormous professional advantages? For example, we all value colleagues who will make the effort to review our research. Isn't it great to have a respected peer to whom one can say, "Edit this paper or sleep on the couch!"? Well, yes and no. Think back to the last time you got comments from a journal on an article you had submitted. Remember the hatred you felt for Referee #2? Well imagine being married to him. You see the problem - few marriages need more opportunities for criticism. ("You shrunk my blue sweater, left the cap off the toothpaste, and your model is not identified.")
But what about collaboration, you ask. An economist spouse is a built-in co-researcher who loves to do the same things you love to do. You have so much more to share! Your list of romantic activities can include things like walking along the beach, watching a golden sunset, and running two-stage least squares. Right? Don't you get your hopes up. Working with your spouse is more dangerous than normal collaboration because the common professional civilities typically are not applied. To illustrate, suppose you have a co-author who suggests a minor modification in econometric technique. Compare your probable responses:
To non-spouse collaborator: "Hmm, are you sure that we have an error structure which warrants this approach?"
To spouse: "That model makes about as much sense as inviting your parents here for Thanksgiving. "
We realize, of course, that it may be pointless to warn young economists about the dangers of intraprofessional marriage. There is an old saying: love does not enjoy perfect foresight or have complete information. Still, we hope readers will derive some benefit from our twelve years of experience. If you are considering a match with a fellow economist, at least observe a few simple precautions:
someone whose last name follows yours in alphabetical order ¾
make him be the et. al.;
department meetings, avoid eye contact with your spouse, especially after you
have said something stupid;
A special safety tip for men: when discussing responsibility for child care, never, never use the term "natural comparative advantage."
And of course one must always bear in mind the key distinction between your job as an economist and your role as a spouse ¾ in the latter position, no matter how good you are, you never get tenure.