PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 January, 2012, 12:00am


Self-help books are not my thing. But the nuts and bolts of marriage and what makes it tick fascinate me. Two journalists - Paula Szuchman of The Wall Street Journal and Jenny Anderson of The New York Times - promise in Spousonomics a 'clear-eyed, rational route to demystifying your disagreements and improving your relationship' from the perspective of economics.

There are none of the calls to positive thinking and psychobabble that are usually in a self-help book. This is a pragmatic look at marriage as a study in resource allocation, applying economic concepts to the domestic front.

Surprisingly, for a book based on economics, Spousonomics opens with an example about sex - or rather, the perennial marital problem of not being in the mood. What you need, the authors contend, as creepy as it might sound, is 'an economist in the bedroom' lecturing you on such concepts as 'active decision-making' and 'asymmetric information'.

Much of Spousonomics is based on behavioural economics, which looks at how psychological factors influence economic decisions. The first chapter deals with a topic after my own heart and one I suspect will speak to most married couples: 'Division of Labour'. The next, 'Loss Aversion', deals with fights, and so forth.

The authors went about writing the book with a two-pronged approach - 'first economics, then love'. After boning up on their own economic fundamentals, they interviewed economists, a 'surprisingly romantic bunch', about how their research could be applied to marriage. They combined these insights with what they call their 'exhaustive, groundbreaking and very expensive marriage survey', followed by a tour talking to couples across the United States.

The real-life examples of the conflicts that crop up in marriages bring the book alive. I enjoyed the insights into what drew these people together as much as I was intrigued by the economics-based solutions to their travails. Even the drab image of the economist is enlivened by the odd peek into the softer, romantic side of such icons as Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes. I'm a quiz junkie and enjoyed the 'Couples Confidence Index'.

The book uses up-to-date case studies and makes connections with recent economic crises such as the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the dotcom bubble. You can brush up on economic concepts while grasping essential tips on how to put your marriage in order.

Verdict: An engaging read with plenty of relatable examples and practical tips

Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage and Dirty Dishes by Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, Random House, HK$208 from paddyfield.com