Shoshana Grossbard | Economics of the Family and the Household


Personal Archives (in chronological order)

1. 1986: How much theory did I need for a paper on the price of youth, labor supply and more? (added on 3/27/2019)

One advantage of the aging process is that you get more opportunities to nurture your inner child, including your “inner child-economist”. When I recently rediscovered the correspondence surrounding my paper with Shoshana Neuman. "Women's Labor Supply and Marital Choice," I relived a difficult episode. Thirty-three years ago, when I was in the midst of all this, I felt very upset. Now, I can calm down my inner child.

The paper studies the labor force participation of married Jewish women in Israel as a function of marital sorting according to age and ethnicity. In line with my earlier theory of allocation of time in markets for labor and marriage (EJ 1984) I hypothesized that value of time, and consequently labor force participation, can vary with circumstances specific to a marriage market. Wives' traits valued in the marriage market are expected to be associated with lower labor-force participation, whereas husbands' traits valued in the marriage market are expected to be associated with higher participation rates on the part of wives. Inclusion of such traits—such as husband older than wife--increases the explanatory power of regressions of labor force participation. The theory is essential to the paper. It made me think about a possible connection between marital sorting and labor supply when no labor economist was thinking about it.

I submitted the paper to the Journal of Political Economy in 1986. Jim Heckman who was then editor of the JPE (and had been one of my PhD advisors) gave me a weak Revise and Resubmit asking me to mostly drop the theory in line with the shorter referee report he included. This report suggested the theory be reduced to 5 pages and the empirical section as well. It states “A note of 10 to 15 pages might be useful since Grossbard-Shechtman and Neuman deal with important issues that are not receiving much attention.” Nice, I thought, but why a note, and not a full paper?

Shoshana N. and I immediately started the revision. Soon we had a new draft that I sent to my other doctoral adviser, Gary Becker. He wrote that it is still too long and should be cut to fifteen pages. I had tried to bring the theory back in by including it in the discussion. Not a good idea, he thought. He wrote “you could cut a substantial amount from the discussion of the empirical results. I would definitely recommend that you do this.” Becker was probably the author of the short referee report. Why did he think these issues he considered important (in his report to Heckman) were only worthy of a note and not of a full paper? I will never know. But I count my blessings: the paper got published in the JPE and was not labeled ‘note’. I had to learn to write more succinctly and effectively. It was good training. I am very grateful for all I learned from these two brilliant men and for their contribution to my work appearing in the JPE. Also glad I did not give up and eventually published more of the theory in The Marriage Motive.  

2. 1994 WSJ : exchange over Shoshana Grossbard's idea: "married WOMEN decide individually about taking JOBS, comparing costs (including lower income transfers from husband) and benefits."

Idea presented in a 1994 Wall Street Journal article titled "Young Women May Trade Jobs for Marriage" and based on research by Shoshana Grossbard-Shechtman and Clive Granger, winner of the 1993 Nobel prize in economics. The cited research was presented at the 1994 meetings of the American Economic Association and published in the French journal Population in 1998. Original article in French. Here is an  English Translation.

Defending the idea: 

  • Gary Becker, winner of 1992 Nobel prize in economics, defending my idea, cited in the article: "I don't think feminists should get upset with [Grossbard's] work, says Dr. Becker, himself a frequent target of feminists. "I don't think they [the feminists] would want to deny that there is an economic bargaining component within marriage."

  • Kathryn L. Shaw, now the Ernest C. Arbuckle Professor of Economics at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, defending my idea, cited in the article: "Men's income does indirectly compensate women for working at home." "I don't know we can't just come out and say it. Some women do--and more women should-- think of their husband's income as compensation for things at home [the men] aren't doing."

  • Response to Barbara Bergmann's criticism (below) by Nancy Folbre, prominent feminist economist and past recipient of McArthur genius award, femecon 1994

Criticizing the idea: Barbara Bergmann, then Professor of economics at American University, in a 1994 post on LISTSERV by femecon (then maintained by Jean Shackelford at the critique, posted here, ends with "SHOSHONA! TRY A LITTLE HARDER TO SHAKE THE DUST OF SEXIST CHICAGO FROM YOUR SHOES."

Response to Barbara Bergmann by Don (now Deirdre) McCloskey, prominent economist, on femecon 1994 

Further discussion of the idea in the first issue of Feminist Economics , 1(1), 1995: Response by Myra Strober and my response to M Strober:

3. On the economic approach to marriage.

Here is a citation from Gary Becker. I share what some have called his ‘mercenary’ approach, but not to justify a traditional division of labor. Those who work in household production (often women) should not be exploited, they should fight for their rights and for adequate compensation.

"Becker's critics thought that marriage, for example, was about romance, not about maximizing your utility," said [Richard]Posner. "Gary would write about division of responsibilities, where the husband is bringing in the money and the money is being used to finance the wife's work, to take care of the kids and so forth. That way of looking at things really offended people. It seemed so mercenary!"

4. 2010: Gary Becker & Shoshana Grossbard letter exchange

Becker, August 2010. "with a few exceptions"  What could these exceptions be? 

5. 2019: Thanking my mentors

So grateful for my amazing mentors. Isolated professionally as a woman in economics specializing in the analysis of marriage markets I appointed a board of six mentors to whom I started sending biannual reports about 25 years ago.

All male board consisted of the late Gary Becker, #1 on REPEC RIP economists. Clive Granger, #2 REPEC RIP was also on my board. So was Jacob Mincer #14 on REPEC RIP. Other late mentor, Jack Hirshleifer, in top 8% of REPEC RIP. Two mentors still alive, may they be blessed with long healthy life! JJHeckman @heckmanequation is ranked #2 among all economists . Thanks for all the good advice JIM! Last but not least, Edward Lazear, founder of Personnel Economics, also highly ranked on REPEC. Thanks Ed for being there consistently for 45 yrs.

Thanks to all my mentors, who at some point all served on the board of my journal REHO, a tremendous boost.

6. About the price of WIHO (added on Sept 23, 2019)

PRICES for WIHO (Work-In-HOusehold). More on WIHO here:

Markets for commercial goods and services establish prices. Likewise, it can be expected that marriage markets also establish prices where demand equals supply. We hear about prices in marriage markets in those cultures where premarital payments are often paid prior to the wedding. Bride prices are paid by men or their families; dowries by women or their relatives. Many have analyzed bride prices, including Bronfenbrenner (1971), Cheung (1972) and Bishai and Grossbard (2010). Others have studied dowries. But what role do prices in marriage markets play in the context of the contemporary United States or other modern countries?  Gary Becker (1973, 1981) viewed marriage markets as markets for people and prices in those markets as an indication of how much each spouse will access assignable consumption goods and services. In contrast, my WIHO market analysis leads to the interpretation of prices as quasi-wages measuring how much a potential or actual spouse is willing to compensate a person for work that benefits him or her, i.e. WIHO work. These wages help resolve conflicts of interest not only about who consumes what, but also about who does what. For example, prices for WIHO can help individuals organize their co-parenting schedules whether married or in another cooperative arrangement. Take the case of a wife who wants her husband to do more parenting of their joint children. Let her “pay” the husband more for his WIHO and he may switch some of his work hours from the commercial sector to the household sector. Incentives may work in this case, as they work in many other markets.