Profile of Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson

by on February 11, 2012 at 8:53 pm in Economics, Uncategorized | Permalink

It is here, charming piece, four clicks to get through the whole thing.  Here is one bit:

They have one child, but there are two strollers, a Bugaboo and a Bob baby jogger, parked in the front hall of their stylish home here. Their daughter, Matilda, who is almost 2 1/2 , attends classes in art, music and soccer. She is not allowed to eat any meat or sugar, not even in birthday cake.


Their home in Philadelphia, in a historic building that once housed an African-American publishing house, features soaring ceilings and custom iron work. A glass-top Noguchi coffee table is in the living room, next to a white Jonathan Adler casting couch covered in a sheepskin throw from Costco. In the attic is a home gym with a treadmill, a boxing bag, a recumbent bicycle and a flat-screen television.

Matilda’s nanny has a Master’s degree.  Here is Justin’s mother:

“Out of all my children he was, and still is, the most emotional,” Ms. Wolfers wrote in an e-mail. “Any attempts to hide his feelings, positive or negative, are doomed to failure. This seems to be at odds with his belief that all aspects of life can be described by an economic concept or a cold, bleak economics formula.”

My 2007 column on their work is here.

1 VGM February 11, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Dear Professor-

A single click will take you to the print version, which has the entire article clutter-free.

2 maguro February 11, 2012 at 9:25 pm

No birthday cake? Crikey.

3 Miley Cyrax February 11, 2012 at 9:48 pm

No candy or cake is one thing, but no meat? These people sound awful.

4 CBBB February 11, 2012 at 9:54 pm

Indeed – and Tyler says this piece is “Charmining”. I want to clunk the Justin and Betsey’s heads together just reading this exert.

5 Careless February 11, 2012 at 10:14 pm

and Tyler says this piece is “Charmining”

As I’ve pointed out before, you’re not the first troll to come to this blog.

6 CBBB February 11, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Ugh, forgot to correct my typo. I have high standards for my Trolling and this didn’t pass muster. I admit my mistake.

7 Millian February 12, 2012 at 7:03 am

Wait till I tell you about these people called the Hindus.

8 sunbomb February 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Pray tell us more about these Hindus; presumably no cake or candy ever? And no alternatives either, I suspect; ah, the poor people:

9 Cliff February 11, 2012 at 10:37 pm

These peoples’ life sounds like my worst nightmare.

10 R. Pointer February 12, 2012 at 1:32 am

Makes me want to use one of my 20 clicks on this article. Are they?

11 Paul February 12, 2012 at 10:36 pm

What part of it is your worst nightmare? The article told you very little about their lives, other than their jobs, their home furnishings, and the fact that their nanny works reasonably long hours (suggesting there are a lot of things in their lifestyle that are not being mentioned). And implicitly their high income.

For all you know, their lives might well look a lot like your’s, home furnishings aside. Or is that your worst nightmare is not being allowed to eat meat and sugar?

12 Nate February 11, 2012 at 10:46 pm
13 GiT February 12, 2012 at 12:45 am

Thank you for this.

14 Andrew' February 12, 2012 at 5:42 am

Disappointing. I was expecting a “How-To.”

15 Nikki February 12, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Hats off, sir.

16 Scott February 11, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Meat in a birthday cake? Never had it.

But really, no meat in their daughters diet is going to have quite a few negative effects on her development (the sugar is not so bad an idea though). Also, I object to the use of “African American”. I believe they mean “historically black” — after all, Dave Matthews is an African American.

17 Dave Barnes February 12, 2012 at 10:46 am

Dave is nowhere near as hot as African-American Charlize Theron.

18 Matt February 11, 2012 at 11:23 pm

1) There’s no evidence at all that not giving a kid any sugar is a good thing. You’d think they might care about evidence.
2) I’ll admit to not reading the whole thing (I don’t like lifestyle piece) but in the bits I read, I was surprised that there wasn’t any mention of the surprising decision of Penn to not give her tenure. (Maybe she’ll get it on appeal, but she was turned down the first time.) Did that get mentioned in the later parts of the paper? Odd, if not.

19 Matthew C. February 11, 2012 at 11:42 pm

There is, of course, an enormous and growing amount of evidence that sugar is the devil incarnate.

Meat, on the other hand, does a body good. . .

20 CBBB February 11, 2012 at 11:49 pm

I feel people are focusing on the sugar too much and not enough on the other asshole things these people do – like hire nannies with masters degrees.

21 Cliff February 12, 2012 at 12:23 am

I agree. Two parents, one child, and a nanny with a masters? At least go with an au pair or something if you really have to.

22 Andrew' February 12, 2012 at 5:43 am

“There is, of course, an enormous and growing amount of evidence that sugar is the devil incarnate.”

So, what we should do is tariff it, subsidize it, and ban it.

23 Cliff February 12, 2012 at 9:38 pm

I think any toddler would be way better off in daycare learning to be around other kids and socializing than being tutored one-on-one by someone with a Master’s, especially when the parents are both academics already.

24 Andrew' February 12, 2012 at 9:12 am

Yeah, he’s a real jerk stealing this Master’s from where it’s really needed- larger groups of children like his.

25 K.E. February 12, 2012 at 10:17 am

“The couple also have someone who drives them back and forth to Princeton and who cooks, does the laundry and snakes the drains when they are clogged.”

Egads! Brazil!
Egads! United States: Country of the Future!

26 Floccina February 12, 2012 at 7:26 pm

I doubt it, got some links to well done studies that show sugar is bad.

27 Floccina February 12, 2012 at 7:23 pm


28 Cliff February 12, 2012 at 12:25 am

“BETSEY STEVENSON and Justin Wolfers might sound like almost any upscale couple.”

Uhh… no

29 Norman Pfyster February 12, 2012 at 1:14 pm

I’m trying to figure out how two professors can make an upscale couple. $50,000 per year on a nanny…$50,000! Out of their after-tax disposable income. Either professors make way more than I thought, or there is something about their finances we’re missing (like the university pays for their housing).

30 CBBB February 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Business school professors are insanely overpaid. I would say if you’re teaching at Wharton you’re not making less then a quarter million a year.

31 CBBB February 12, 2012 at 1:44 pm

So this Nanny has a masters in Education, I assume – and she only makes $50,000 a year? I guess teachers in the US get paid nothing because she could easily make 6-figures as a public school teacher in Canada. 50K is a starting salary for a teacher here with just a BEd.

32 pieter February 12, 2012 at 5:25 pm

I always thought CBBB’s complex came from him being short, but it turns out he’s just Canadian.

33 msgkings February 12, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Well think about it. The dude can’t get a job in booming Canada, of course he’s a mess.

34 CBBB February 12, 2012 at 8:08 pm

I’m not really short – but being Canadian is a major problem. And msgkings Canada isn’t really booming the unemployment rate has been steadily rising for quarters now, only one province is “booming” and it’s entirely driven by oil – it’s certainly not a broad based prosperity. In fact in the last jobs report the categories that felt the heaviest employment losses were professionals, scientists, and technical workers.
The story of the Canadian economy has been WIDELY overblown, if the price of oil ever fell this country would be in dire straits.

35 msgkings February 12, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Is your mood affiliation keeping you from moving to Alberta and using your math background to help find more oil?

36 CBBB February 12, 2012 at 8:57 pm

I don’t have a PhD in Geophysics here. I’ve applied to a lot of jobs in Alberta – if you’re an Engineer with 4-5 years experience in resource extraction then it might be a good market. If not, it’s not. Yeah you know in theory you can use math for a lot of things, in practice what you learn in an undergraduate (and most graduate) program is just totally insufficient for any practical application.

37 msgkings February 12, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Maybe you’ll need to start out as a roughneck. I bet they make more than your $80K/yr poverty line.

38 Floccina February 12, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Would they allow her to work in Canada?

39 CBBB February 12, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Probably not, but I’m just commenting on how low teachers must be paid down there if someone is willing to be a nanny for 50K a year when they could get a teaching job with their background.

40 Norman Pfyster February 13, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Being bored today, I looked up salary scales in the collective bargaining agreements for public school teachers in Canada, picking what I assumed to be the higher-paying school districts in provinces with the highest average salaries (three cheers for TGS, because cheap, fast information has no impact on welfare). Our plucky nanny would make between CAD 45-55,000, given her level of education and her (I am assuming) lack of experience.

41 Norman Pfyster February 13, 2012 at 2:17 pm

I should note there is a discrepancy between what a masters in education means in the US vs. Canada. An masters in Canada would require an additional two years of schooling compared to the US masters degree. I am assuming said plucky nanny to have the US-equivalent masters, thus earning a slightly lower salary than a Canadian-equivalent masters.

42 YetanotherTom February 12, 2012 at 12:57 am

I wonder how Bryan Caplan would feel about their parenting choices. Particularly the time and money spent on classes and graduate degree nanny’s.

43 Dan Weber February 12, 2012 at 10:09 am

He approves of consumption choices, if they enjoy doing these things.

44 Jason February 12, 2012 at 12:27 pm

He might approve of their choices but still feel they are ridiculous. Not that it really matters what he thinks one way or the other.

45 zbicyclist February 13, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Possible overspending on quality child rearing? Many bigger sins in the world. I don’t see why this is such an issue.

46 Brett February 12, 2012 at 1:08 am

No meat at all sounds like a potential developmental risk. They’d need to be careful about making up for it in composing meals.

Processed sugar, on the other hand, is probably okay. Of course, I expect a chocolate rebellion in the future.

47 Ronald Brak February 12, 2012 at 1:23 am

Perhaps a government department should be created to control what parents can and can’t feed their children? And possibly another department to made decisions for people about what kind of nannies to hire.

48 Cliff February 12, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Freedom to raise your children as you please; freedom for us to criticize your choices.

49 Andrew' February 12, 2012 at 5:39 am

There are incredibly important critical periods of development windows. The problem is I think we barely know any of them.

50 Andrew' February 12, 2012 at 5:47 am

New rule, people without kids can’t criticize parents except for things that leave visible marks.

51 msgkings February 12, 2012 at 10:18 am


52 CBBB February 12, 2012 at 10:47 am

Kids are the worst – they ruin everything. All parents are to blame.

53 msgkings February 12, 2012 at 12:43 pm

We can certainly blame YOUR parents for their faulty birth control…

54 CBBB February 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Thanks for clarifying the Joke for everyone

55 msgkings February 12, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Thanks for capitalizing ‘Joke’ for some reason.

56 CBBB February 12, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Oh I randomly capitalize things all the time – haven’t you read any of my posts?

57 msgkings February 12, 2012 at 5:56 pm

No, can’t Say that I Have.

58 Cliff February 12, 2012 at 9:40 pm

How can you tell who has kids and who doesn’t (other than CBBB)?

59 R Gregory February 12, 2012 at 6:13 am

Wow. This is pretty low for you Mr.Cowen. Mr. Wolfers disagrees with you and you dig up this? I am pretty sure if we put your life under a microscope we could make you look just as creepy. This makes me very sad. I used to have some respect for your abilities as an economist and a writer. Now you are just becoming another shrill hack for the latest right-wing cause du jour. I hope some day you get your courage back.

60 Andrew' February 12, 2012 at 6:48 am

Wow is right. Cowen posts an article and the article is so damning (to some bored people above) that you assume just posting the article is an attack?

61 Thomas February 12, 2012 at 11:03 am

Very clever of him to dig this article up from that little paper in NY that no one reads.

62 Tyler Cowen February 12, 2012 at 7:15 am

I don’t see why you are all so upset, they are very nice people!

63 Slocum February 12, 2012 at 8:22 am

I don’t get it either–culturally, they sound half the people in my Ann Arbor neighborhood. Well, half is probably an exaggeration, but their bobo ‘eccentricities’ certainly wouldn’t mark them as odd. In fact, the article mentions that they actually have a…TV! (although it’s not clear whether or not A – it’s actually connected to cable, or B – they let their kids watch it 😉 And do they let their kids drink pasteurized milk? Or does it have to be raw? Now I would agree that this bit is a little nauseating in the standard, NY Times, sop-to-the-high-end-advertisers-style, but c’mon that’s not Wolfers and Stevenson’s fault :

Their home in Philadelphia, in a historic building that once housed an African-American publishing house, features soaring ceilings and custom iron work. A glass-top Noguchi coffee table is in the living room, next to a white Jonathan Adler casting couch covered in a sheepskin throw from Costco.

You can’t read that and not laugh (well I can’t anyway) at the obviousness of the brand-name dropping combined with the lame attempt to soften it with the mention of the throw from Costco (They have money & exquisite modernist taste! But they also shop at Costco! So they’re just regular folk after all!) But, again, that’s Times, not Wolfers & Stevenson — let’s cut ’em some slack.

64 Dutch_renter February 12, 2012 at 7:25 am

You can view krugman’s column here:

This saves you some free articles.

65 CBBB February 12, 2012 at 10:52 am

I see Tyler deleted my comment about that. Unbelievable.
Any way I think PK deserves to be read officially at the New York Times.

66 trav February 12, 2012 at 5:31 pm

CBBB has an unhealthy obsession with Krugman.

67 CBBB February 12, 2012 at 8:10 pm

It’s actually a game played on Marginal Revolution, developed by Tyler Cowen but I’ve picked it up now. It’s called Krugman-Baiting.

68 JasonM February 12, 2012 at 8:02 am

Yes, I am shocked by the vitriol here. Yes, they have the annoying tics of the top 20 percent, or Charles Murray’s Overeducated Elitist Snobs. So what, every social class has its annoying tics — think of middle-class Mormons or working-class Latinos or billionaires on St. Bart’s. More importantly, they are a loving, hard-working couple who care about each other and their child.

69 CBBB February 12, 2012 at 10:49 am

Aren’t they just a couple of economists? What hard work have they done? This guy teaches at Wharton? Sounds ridiculously overpaid to me – cranking out wealth-destroying MBAs.

70 Tyler Cowen February 12, 2012 at 9:05 am

I did delete some number of the comments here.

71 DK February 12, 2012 at 11:21 am

And that is just as disgusting as the people that are being commented upon.

72 Cliff February 12, 2012 at 9:45 pm

I am sort of puzzled as to why. My comment that was deleted was not saying anything bad about the people profiled per se, just a comment that the life they have chosen to live with their generous compensation is one I would pay a lot of money NOT to live (hopefully that revision will make it past the filter).

73 Cliff February 12, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Ah, sorry it wasn’t deleted!

74 Cliff February 12, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Or it seems like it got moved around? And a comment replying to mine was deleted. Down the rabbit hole, I guess!

75 CBBB February 12, 2012 at 9:53 pm

I expressed my desire to do violence against the couple in question. So I think that was why my comment was deleted. Although in fairness it was just Three-Stooges style clunking of heads together violence.

76 Alleged Wisdom February 12, 2012 at 9:29 am

One of the most instructive parts of that article is what it says about the labor market value of a master’s degree in education. I would really like to see interview with that nanny. I also wonder if this provides evidence for the signaling model or the human capital model of education.

77 CBBB February 12, 2012 at 10:53 am

The world would have been better off if Justin Wolfers had just remained in Australia wrestling Alligators and herding Kangaroos.

78 TGGP February 12, 2012 at 5:14 pm

This might be the one CBBB comment which was worth my time to read.

79 Wimivo February 12, 2012 at 11:25 am

Can someone please explain or link me to the reasoning and evidence behind the current sugar-free fad? Is it any more substantial than, say, the gluten-free fad? My cells do like glucose quite a bit, after all.

80 MKBARCH February 12, 2012 at 7:32 pm

They mean refined sugar; pure glucose, vs. the complex carbohydrates as found in most plant foods.
See here:
“Is Sugar Toxic?” from the NYT –

or this talk with Robert Lustig:

81 MKBARCH February 13, 2012 at 10:01 am

Meant fructose, actually, not glucose. Added suger in he diet is the problem.

82 Floccina February 12, 2012 at 7:35 pm

+1 I would also like to see that. Sugar is a natural food for humans.

83 Cliff February 12, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Not really. What natural source of sugar exists in the “wild”? Only fruit, which has a modest amount of sugar along with a lot of fiber and a reasonable proportion of nutrients. Not that whether something is natural dictates whether it is harmful. Even without getting into insulin response and the like, sugar has no nutritional content and is empty calories. Obesity is of course a huge problem in modern life. Cutting sugar would go a long way.

84 dismalscientist February 12, 2012 at 11:28 am

This feature underscores the class-bias of society. The only thing that makes UPENN and its faculty elite is that is represents the interests of WASP sensibilities and interests. UPENN has no black economics faculty, and I can think of many black economists who do pure theory that informs the methods that inform the narrow and ad hoc policy work the feature economists engage in. Cognitive elite? Not so sure. Class elite? I think so. Let’s face it, this society stratifies on race—particularly whether one is black–and class. Nobody really cares about the cognitive ability of non-whites–unless it translates into inquiry that speaks to the inferiority of blacks and other nonwhites. It is a real shame that the Obama administration depends upon these types to inform its policy agenda……….dam sham.


85 Ricardo February 13, 2012 at 1:06 am

WASP sensibilities!? Are there no Jews or Asians on the faculty? This isn’t the 1920s.

86 Becky Hargrove February 12, 2012 at 12:17 pm

I thought I had seen the article in a most positive light and yet my comment was deleted. Interesting indeed!

87 Paul February 12, 2012 at 10:31 pm

I found the article about the economists to be completely ordinary, and their decisions to be very similar to a lot of people I know in suburban Boston (probably top-ten-percenters). The strangest thing was the reporter’s obsession pointing out details intended to flag them as elite, such as the custom-built shelves. What possible difference could custom-built shelves make? And yet I’m sure those little notes just stirred up this hornet’s nest further.

My takeaway is never to let a journalist into my home.

88 enrique February 13, 2012 at 7:49 pm

To the assertion that this profile is a “charming piece” and must be read in a “subtle” way, all I would say is: <>

89 enrique February 13, 2012 at 7:51 pm

All I would say is … “that’s bollocks, tyler”

90 JJ February 15, 2012 at 9:56 pm

I just had the pleasure of reading thi sprofile. I don’t mind the affluence. Who cares? What I find stunning is the pretty thorough lack of sef-reflection on the fact that they (in no small part) model their lives on their models. But economic models are fictions. ANd the agents who populate those fictions are by most measures sociopaths. My advice? Just load the freakn’ dishwasher and cut the bullshit. ANd don’t try to model your kid’s self-relaince, even in a sort of cutesy, informal sort of way.

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