Saturday, August 22, 2009

Breeding Stock

Odds are you have never read, let alone heard of the "Journal of Population Economics," an international quarterly that publishes original research and survey articles on topics dealing with the broadly defined relationship between economics and demographics. And that means you've missed such page turners as Pal Schone's piece on "New Technologies, New Work Practices and the Age Structure of the Workers," or Christophe Hachon's study which seeks to answer the question "Do Beveridgean Pension Systems Increase Growth?" Of course, to enjoy it, you'll first you'll have to look up the meaning of "Beveridgean."

That being said, there's a good chance you will be hearing about a study about to grace the journal's pages. Oxford University researcher Almudena Sevilla-Sanz's paper is entitled "Household Division of Labor and Cross-Country Differences in Household Formation Rates." It's an exploration of gender, housework and children, and the attitudes surrounding those elements. Normally it would find an audience only among academics, while the rest of us would dismiss it as yet another dry dissertation of interest only to those in the field. But this one may break above the horizon because it has a catchy angle. Based on an "egalitarian index" created by the author, it ranks men as to their attractiveness as husbands based on their willingness to help out around the house.

No anecdotal recitation, the study was based on interviews with 13,500 men and women between 20 and 45 from 12 countries. Sevilla-Sanz tabulated the attitudes of both genders towards what was traditionally thought of as "women's work," that is, cooking, cleaning and helping to raise the kids. Then she correlated that information with the number of women in partnerships in a given country, taking into account age and background. She found that women living in countries with the highest proportion of egalitarian men...those who were happy to do their share of chores... were more likely to marry or live with a man. Empirically speaking, women living in less egalitarian countries were between 20 and 50 percent less likely to be living with a man than women living in more egalitarian countries.

OK, so far you're trying to stifle a yawn. But here's where it gets good. She then matched up all this data country by country and voila! You have a ranking of which nationalities make for the best husbands. The results: Swedish and Norwegian men make the most attractive husbands as they'll help with the housework. At the other end were the cads in Japan, Germany and Austria, while Australian men, renowned for their love of sport and beer, came in dead last. We Americans, by the way, placed fourth.

It's worth pointing out that men and women view this all differently. While women seemed to prefer a man who would take out the trash, wipe down the kitchen counters and change a few diapers, men were not so keen on seeking a partner who wanted to split the chores. "While egalitarian men seem to be viewed as a better bet by women, egalitarian women are seen as a less safe bet by men," said Sevilla-Sanz.

Still, if you're husband shopping, you might add nationality into the mix along with his hair, height and earnings potential. All of which recalls an old joke, wherein a gorgeous woman sits down next to a man on a plane. He asks her where she is going, to which she responds the Annual Nymphomania Convention in Chicago. She relates that she will be speaking there, trying to debunk some of the popular myths about sexuality. And what, he asks, are those myths? "Well, there's the one that African American men are the most well endowed, when in fact it's the Native American Indian. And some say that French men are the best lovers, when actually it is men of Jewish descent. Still, the best lover of all seems to be the Southern redneck." Suddenly, the woman became a little uncomfortable. "I'm sorry," she said, "I shouldn't really be discussing this with you. I don't even know your name." To which the man responds. "Tonto. Tonto Goldstein. But my friends call me Bubba."

Ladies, keep that in mind when you're looking for a mate. If Sven or Lief looks good to you, go for it and consider yourself lucky that he will help with the nappies. On the other hand, if you get introduced to a tall, blond surfer named Dingo Bruce, he's all yours. Just realize that you will be the one taking out the rubbish and turning the shrimp on the barbie.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is comfortable with placing fourth. You'll have to ask his wife if he merits a higher or lower ranking. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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