Women’s Education and Family Behaviour: Trends in Marriage, Divorce and Fertility, by Adam Isen and Betsey Stevenson, University of Pennsylvania, NBER paper
The view that two people marry because they fall in love and want to live with each other is not very popular among economists. Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker, for example, believed that married couples were “production units” that produce both goods in the house (such as clean laundry and care for children) and in the marketplace. By having one person specialize in domestic responsibilities (usually a housewife) while the other supports the spouse and children financially (typically a husband as the breadwinner), couples are more efficient than singles. Those who were not very suited for specializing in household work, like college-educated women graduates, were therefore least likely to marry in the US.
But Isen and Stevenson argue that much has changed since the early 1980s when Becker produced his thoughts on marital bliss. They say that labour-saving technology in the home has “reduced the returns to home production skills”, while higher wages for women “represent a greater opportunity cost for a couple contemplating a stay-at-home spouse”. And finally, easier divorces “have made specialization in the home riskier”. All these things, say the authors, have changed “production-based marriage” to “consumption-based marriage”. The result: “a modern marriage based on consumption complementarities is likely to be more enticing for educated women as the new model of marriage thrives when households have the time and resources to enjoy their lives. In contrast, less educated women have less to gain through household specialization in marriage today than in the past”. This has led to a sea change in marital patterns. These days, say Isen and Stevenson, women college graduates are the most likely to remain married, be happier in marriage and have fewer divorces.
The Effects of Relative Food Prices on Obesity—Evidence from China: 1991-2006 By Yang Lu, RAND Corp., and Dana Goldman, University of Southern California, NBER paper
While obesity has long been a serious public health issue in the developed world, growing prosperity in countries such as China and India has led to it being taken seriously in the developing world as well. In China, for instance, the fraction of Chinese who are either overweight or obese has increased from 14.6% in 1992 to 21.8% in 2002. The link between obesity and the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes has been well documented. But is it possible to change people’s diet preferences by changing the prices of food, so that the intake of energy-intense foods, which are big contributors to body fat, are curbed? Yang Lu and Dana Goldman concentrate on cooking oil, the most energy-dense of all foods, and investigate whether changes in its price can be linked to changes in obesity.
Their research suggests that food prices do indeed affect individuals’ body fat levels by changing the composition of the meals they consume. The results show that in China, individuals consumed more cooking oil when its prices were lower and that this led to a higher level of body fat. That’s no surprise. What’s interesting, though, is their other finding that, “At the same time, individuals are likely to keep total calories consumed per day to a certain number, and reduce the consumption of other foods, such as rice, flour, meats, and vegetables, to compensate for more oil intake, such that the total calorie intake will not change substantially, but a higher fraction of calories will come from fat.”
That suggests the case for a food policy that takes the impact that various foods have on health into account. For instance, junk food could be highly taxed and organic food lightly. As the authors put it, “by using different pricing policies, it is possible to effectively induce healthier food consumption patterns and thus control the growth of obesity”.
Illustrations by Jayachandran/Mint