Women, relationships, and game theory

When reading about that hunk Hugh Jackman and his new movie Wolverine I read this story in Stuff.  In that story he mentioned the following comment from his wife:

He said: “She gets very annoyed. She says, ‘A husband’s job is to be fat and flabby and make me look fabulous.’ She said I wasn’t living up to my end of the bargain.”

My first reaction was awesome – she is being a bit sarcastic and she is willing to let her guy relax and enjoy himself.  Then my inner economist came along and actually explained to me the game that Hugh Jackman’s wife might be playing here.

A relationship is just a social situation that (primarily) involves two players.  Now, relationships have heaps of co-operative advantages and can be used to build specific goods and services.

However, sometimes the surplus in a relationship has to be split between the partners – creating a situation of conflict.

Such a situation is complicated, with things like reputational capital, altrusim, and outside options playing a huge role in determining how the surplus is split.

In this specific case, I see the ladies statement as a demand regarding the relevant “outside options”.

The better shape a given player in the relationship is – the greater their outside option is.  As a result, all other things equal they improve their bargaining position and can receive a greater share of the surplus.

Here, Hugh Jackman’s wife appears to be complaining that, with Hugh’s current buff and sexy figure, he has increased his bargaining power and thereby hurt her bargaining position!

That seems wildly cynical

It does sound that way – but I promise I don’t mean it to be 🙂

I am sure that 99% of women (including Hugh Jackman’s wife) do not consiously think of it this way at all.

However, given my belief that most people follow what appears to be rational action through their subconsious selves (or by evolved rules of thumb, either personal or social/preference style) this doesn’t have to be cynical to be true.

In this case, the woman does not know she is improving her bargaining position by doing it – she just has to feel that it is the way of things.  However, just because the intention isn’t there doesn’t invalidate the end result 🙂