The MILQs at Spousonomics riff on the subject of “learned incompetence.” It’s the strategic response to comparative advantage in the household:  if I am supposed to specialize in my comparative advantage I am going to make sure to demonstrate that my comparative advantage is in relaxing on the couch. Examples from Spousonomics:

Buying dog food. My husband has the number of the pet food store that delivers and he knows the size of the bag we buy. It would be extremely inconvenient for me to ask him for that number.

Sweeping the patio. He’s way better at getting those little pine tree needles out of the cracks. I don’t know how he does it!

A related syndrome is learned ignorance. It springs from the marital collective decision-making process.  Let’s say we are deciding whether to spend a month in San Diego.  Ideally we should both think it over, weigh and discuss the costs and benefits and come to an agreement. But what’s really going to happen is I am going to say yes without a moment’s reflection and her vote is going to be the pivotal one.

The reason is that, for decisions like this that require unanimity, my vote is only going to count when she is in favor.  Now she loves San Diego, but she doesn’t surf and so she can’t love it nearly as much as me.  So she’s going to put more weight on the costs in her cost-benefit calculation.  I care about costs too but I know that conditional on she being in favor I am certainly in favor too.

Over time spouses come to know who is the marginal decision maker on all kinds of decisions.  Once that happens there is no incentive for the other party to do any meaningful deliberation.  Then all decisions are effectively made unilaterally by the person who is least willing to deviate from the status quo.