Can Adam Smith save your marriage? Four steps of 'Spousonomics'

Every marriage is a little business. "Economics is about how to allocate scarce resources," says Paula Szuchman, coauthor with Jenny Anderson of "Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes." "That's what married people are trying to do, given that they have limited resources – time, money, patience." Marriage experts and even economists aren't ready to replace Dear Abby with Adam Smith. "Marriage is more than an economic transaction." says Raymond Fisman, a Columbia University economist. Still, he's a fan of the book. Test these four economic principles on your marriage:

1. Who washes the dishes? (division of labor)

Photo illustration/Katarina Sundelin/Altopress/Newscom/File
One challenge of marriage is deciding who will do what. Spouses will be happier and have more leisure time if they pay attention to Adam Smith, who said tasks should be divvied up according to who does them most efficiently.

Principle: As Adam Smith explained, businesses thrive when workers specialize and do what they do best. Its offshoot, comparative advantage – in which nations produce what they're best at making – is the foundation of free trade.

Payoff: Think of your marriage as an economy and you and your spouse as trading partners exchanging goods and services in the form of household chores. Just as Japan makes quality electronics and Italy stitches the best suits, so too can each spouse take on the chores he or she does relatively better or faster. "Everyone is better off if they go their separate ways and do what each does best," says Professor Fisman. "I cook more efficiently than my wife," but his wife is more effective at cleaning, he adds.

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