For Jan Schulte, “Will you marry me?” is not a “yes” or “no” question.
Speaking at Luce Hall Tuesday afternoon, Schulte, a Fox International Fellow from Free University Berlin, described the focus and early results of his research, which examines the economic behavior of households, couples and families. He has used these findings to assess social policy measures, such as poverty thresholds, child allowances and social benefits. His research also examines the utility of living with another person.
Schulte, a second year doctoral student in economics, said he is interested in the economics of living together because he considers family welfare an important factor in the overall quality of society.
“When families are happier, there is more peace in the world,” he said jokingly.
In his model, Schulte assumes that individuals in couples have distinct preferences, which do not change immediately when they begin living together. Through the model, Schulte examines how their budget is spent on various shared goods, such as food, rent, telephone bills, and personal goods. In doing so, Schulte said he hopes to determine whether couples pool their money, what incentives individuals have for living with a partner, and how the utility of living with another person enhances or detracts from overall life satisfaction.
Schulte said there are definite benefits to living with another person. For example, compared to individuals, couples can buy larger quantities of food, which are cheaper. Since they also share living space, they often end up paying less for more spacious housing.
But Schulte’s data suggests that couples do not pool their income, as might be expected. Instead, he said changes in the male’s and female’s income had different effects on expenditures. For example, a $1 increase in the male partner’s income leads to a greater increase in rent spending than the same increase in the female’s income.
As further evidence of this, spending on clothing changed by different amounts when the male’s or female’s income increased. An increase in the female’s income leads to greater expenditure on male clothing than the same increase in the male’s income. Schulte facetiously said women care more about the appearances of their husbands than the husbands themselves.
But Schulte was unable to answer his title question, “What do I get if I marry you?” He said his research is currently incomplete and that he hopes to have a more concrete answer in the coming weeks.
Irene Kasumba, a research associate at the School of Public Health, said she enjoyed the presentation.
“It was good but it wasn’t what I expected,” she said. “I was expecting a social psychology talk, but it focused on the economics. It was good to get a different perspective though.”
Schulte’s talk was part of the Fox International Fellowship’s spring seminar series. Each year the Fox International Fellowship Program invites two to three students from leading foreign universities to study at Yale and also gives a select number of Yale students the opportunity to study abroad. The program, which Joseph Fox ’38 founded, began in 1989 with the goal of educating future world leaders in the hope of achieving world peace.