Monthly Archives: June 2010

Today’s More or Less (Fridays 1.30pm BST and Sundays 8pm BST – and online via covers the fascinating evidence on the gender pay gap. Claudia Goldin and Amalia Miller are our contributors. Also, Ruth Alexander resorts to mathematical trickery on the streets… well, we’ll see what else makes the cut. Enjoy.

The More or Less 5000 is not invited, although I think it might be stalking me.

From 18th February, 2006:

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” This is reasonable advice, but I was recently given a couple of gift horses and looked them both in the mouth straight away. I know that whenever somebody else pays for the product or service that I am going to use, standard business practice steps through the looking glass into a world where normal rules do not apply.

The old proverb about gift horses argues that free is free and there is no point asking too many questions. At the same time, the fact that the proverb exists at all suggests that we often have reason to grumble about the things that other people buy for us.

Continued at

Six weeks ago, marooned in Helsinki by a rogue Icelandic volcano, I noticed a strong divergence of opinion between those of my colleagues in a similar situation and those with no travel plans. For me and my fellow FT columnist Gideon Rachman, it was the end of the world – even if Gideon, who wasn’t rushing back for his wife’s birthday, accepted it with a sangfroid that I failed to muster. For those safely in the UK, the ash cloud was a minor distraction from important matters such as the Euro crisis and the British election.

The remainder of the article can be read here. Please post comments below.

I am an Indian but my country never qualifies for the World Cup. I usually support the Netherlands because I am a fan of Dutch football. But this year is different, because I work in England, pay my taxes here and feel that if England wins the World Cup it will lead to positive externalities for me. My boss may go easy on me, the general mood of the country will lift and even the looming spending cuts may feel more bearable. But should I sacrifice my love of Dutch football for the sake of my stake in the British economy?

Deepan Banati, London

The answer to this question can be read here. Please post comments below.

Today’s More or Less tries to sketch out the Laffer Curve with help from the IFS and Harvard Business Review’s Justin Fox. Alex Bellos reports from the mental calculation world cup. The all-powerful More or Less 5000 makes an unwelcome appearance, too.

And we answer the Tuesday Boy problem: “I have two children, one of whom is a boy born on a Tuesday. What is the probability that I have two sons.” Not as easy as it looks – and it doesn’t look that easy…

As always, the website is, the podcast will be available soon, and the program will be broadcast today at 1.30pm (BST) on Radio 4, repeated on Sunday at 8pm.

…although this paper seems to imply that gay marriage itself is bad for savings rates.

IZA DP No. 4961

Brighita Negrusa, Sonia Oreffice:

Sexual Orientation and Household Savings: Do Homosexual Couples Save More?

We analyze how sexual orientation is related to household savings using 2000 US Census data, and find that gay and lesbian couples own significantly more retirement income than heterosexuals, while cohabiting heterosexuals save more than their married counterparts. In a household savings model, we interpret this homosexual-specific differential as due to the extremely low fertility of same-sex couples, in addition to the precautionary motives driving cohabiting households to save more than married ones. Evidence from homeowners’ ratio of mortgage payments to house value exhibits the same pattern of savings differentials by sexual orientation and cohabiting status.

I would list a number of caveats at this point but who cares? Thoughtful people will know exactly what they are and trolls will do what trolls do.

From 11th February, 2006:

After more than a decade of war between separatist rebels and the Russian army, there are not many marriageable men to go around in Chechnya. So acting prime minister Ramzan Kadyrov, probably not a feminist, proposed a radical step: “Each man who can provide for four wives should do it.”

Polygyny (having more than one wife, as opposed to polygamy, which is having more than one spouse) is admissible under Islamic law but not Russian law, so Kadyrov is unlikely to make much progress with his proposal. But what difference would such a law make? It’s natural to assume that polygyny is bad for women, partly because most of us would rather have our spouse to ourselves, and partly because we look at a place like Saudi Arabia, where polygyny is not uncommon, and note that women aren’t even allowed to drive.

Continued at

So say these guys:

Jan C. van Ours, Martin Van Tuijl
Abstract: This paper investigates whether there are country-specific characteristics in goal-scoring in the final stage of important international football matches. We examine goal-scoring from 1960 onwards in full ‘A’ international matches of six national teams: Belgium, Brazil, England, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. We analyze qualifying matches for the European Championship and World Cup and the matches at the final tournaments of these two events, the Copa America and the Confederations Cup. We find that the national teams of Germany, England and the Netherlands are more likely than the three other national teams to score in the last minute — including stoppage time. However, for Germans this comes at a cost. Germany is more likely to concede a goal in the dying seconds of a match than other countries. During our period of analysis, the national teams of Brazil and Italy only conceded one goal in the last minute. As to winning penalty shootouts, Germany outperforms the other five countries.

I’m saying nothing.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities remains one of the most remarkable books ever written. If you haven’t read it, you must. It is not dating in any important way.

I came late to Jacobs, after I discovered that John Kay, Robert Lucas, Martin Wolf and many other people who you might think had no opinion about her all thought she was quite brilliant.

I’ve been sent a book titled “What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs”. Interesting. The book is a series of essays; contributors include Saskia Sassen. There are some economists involved but not names I had yet encountered. It looks essential reading for serious scholars of Jacobs. Here is Seth Roberts on the book.

Here are two of my columns mentioning Jane Jacobs, who also features in The Logic of Life.

Just a note to all loyal readers that “Dear Undercover Economist” is now available in paperback in the UK, with a hefty chunk of new material including almost a year’s worth of extra columns and a “readers answer back” section. If you like the column do please consider buying dozens of copies…

Tim Harford’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.