Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Dear Economist

Last year I read ‘The Undercover Economist’ and ‘The Logic of Life’ which were both written by Tim Harford. Tim is an economist and he also writes for the Financial Times (FT). He has two weekly columns for the FT magazine which are “The Undercover Economist” and “Dear Economist”. He also writes editorials for the FT and presents a Radio 4 programme called ‘More or Less’. I really enjoyed both of his books because he writes about the economics of everyday things. I did a little bit of economics years ago as part of my degree and I found it extremely boring. One lecturer spent his whole time drawing incomprehensible graphs and I think his vocabulary only consisted of four words… supply, demand, elastic and inelastic! I’ve recently started to read Tim’s weekly columns for the FT and I really enjoy them. I’ve nabbed one of his “Dear Economist” columns from the FT website to give you a flavour of what they are like but you can go to the Financial Times website for more or check out his own website timharford.com .

Dear Economist: What’s a girl to focus on – looks or brains?

My 15-year-old is disinclined to work for her GCSEs, saying her time is better spent preening herself in preparation for assignations with her delightful, diligent, privately educated, moneyed boyfriend. She insists the money spent on nail-painting, hair-colouring and the like is an investment and will be more than repaid when he marries her. Is she deluding herself?

A curious mother

Dear Curious Mother,

Surprising as this may seem in the 21st century, your daughter’s strategy is not unusual. Evidence on speed-dating gathered by the economists Michèle Belot and Marco Francesconi shows that women are attracted by rich men, while men focus more on a woman’s physical appearance. Lena Edlund, another economist, has found that in the areas of her native Sweden where the wealthiest men live, women of prime marriageable age are over-represented.

However, your daughter is only 15; for Edlund, “prime marriageable age” is 25-44. Your daughter is either going to have to get her hooks into this chap unusually early, or she is going to have to keep him on the boil for another decade – a lot of nail-painting.
Not only is she concentrating her investments into a single asset by abandoning her education, but she may even be making her main goal harder to achieve. Belot and Francesconi discovered that a strong social trend towards “assortative mating” means that although educated, high-achieving men are not interested in marrying a rich woman, they do like educated high-achieving women, rather than shallow girls with shiny nails.
Your daughter should learn to work hard and look good at the same time. Not only will it advance her immediate goals, it will also – sadly – stand her in good stead for the rest of her life.

This is brilliant Betty. Funny and insightful. I'm off to read some more.
Oh sure, men marry the "educated high-achieving women", and then have affairs with the "shallow girls with shiny nails"!

My advice would be to ignore what you think men want and concentrate more on what you want. If the man youre with wants a girl with painted nails, he will always want a girl with painted nails i.e. not an aging women with painted nails.

"Your daughter should learn to work hard and look good at the same time." lol when was this written, in the 40's?
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