Monday, December 7, 2009

Gaming Chinese Marriages

. Monday, December 7, 2009

Tyler Cowen passes along this little nugget from China, where a husband and wife entered into a contract whereby she may only beat him one each week.:

The 32-year-old man, who was named by the Chongqing Evening News as Mr Zhang, took the unusual step after suffering intense abuse from his wife, who studies kung fu.

"I don't want to beat him, but arguments are inevitable and I can't help myself," his wife told the newspaper. She added that in the week before they signed the deal, she had beaten him up three times. ...

In order to curb his wife's aggression, Mr Zhang proposed signing a contract in front of his in-laws. If his wife breaches the contract, she has to return to her parents' home for three days. "She is very obedient to her parents, and her parents will support me and blame her," he said.

I was a bit surprised that Cowen didn't tie this to the already-bad-and-worsening highly skewed female-to-male ratio in China, which is largely a product of the one-child policy but has the side-effect of creating a scarcity of women. This provides the existing women with lots of relationship leverage, which might be why Mr. Zhang's parents are relatively nonplussed:

Mr Zhang's parents told the newspaper that although they felt bad that their son was regularly attacked, the couple were a good match. "They have a good marriage, so we can say nothing about it," said his father.

My question is this: how will this really affect the marriage dynamics in the Zhang household? Cowen also neglected to discuss this, which is very un-Tyler-like. I can think of a few things:

1. If Mrs. Zhang uses up her beating early in the week, then Mr. Zhang can act with impunity until the start of the new week. Therefore, Mrs. Zhang should use her beating as leverage and save it until later.

2. Knowing this, Mr. Zhang should push her buttons early in the week. If she succumbs and beats him, then he can behave however he likes for the remaining days. If she reserves her beating, then he gets his way.

3. The closer it gets to the end of the week, the less of a deterrent the threat of the beating becomes. Why? Because Mr. Zhang knows that it's coming eventually, so he may as well act as he prefers. By the time the beating already comes, Mr. Zhang will have had a full week's worth of antagonism. Presumably, he values this or they wouldn't be in this situation in the first place.

In other words, despite being stronger, Mrs. Zhang has lost all leverage in the relationship and Mr. Zhang is now incentivized to behave badly. This assumes, of course, that Mrs. Zhang strongly prefers not to live with her parents. If she does not, then she may as well beat Mr. Zhang twice on Monday, come back on Thursday and beat him again, and spend the weekend at her folks' place. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Or, if you prefer: wax on, wax off.

But even if she prefers to live with her husband rather than her parents, she should still beat him twice on Monday if he misbehaves at all to prevent his misbehavior the rest of the week, so long as she prefers her parents' house to his shenanigans. This can change the equilibrium if Mr. Zhang prefers living with his wife even if it means compromise over being beaten repeatedly and living alone. So he may choose not to misbehave at all. In this case, the deterrent isn't the beating, but the resulting separation. All the leverage shifts back to Mrs. Zhang: by tying her hands, she is getting what she wants without having to beat her husband. Schelling would be proud.

Of course if that was the marriage dynamic, Mrs. Zhang could've just threatened to go to her parents' house whenever Mr. Zhang upset her. But then they would never have been in this situation in the first place. So I'm sticking with my first interpretation, and predicting that the marriage does not last.

Tiger Woods, call your lawyer. This is better than the deal you're getting right now.


Gaming Chinese Marriages




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