Big Planet

The economics of brushing teeth

In academia, popular economics on June 6, 2009 at 12:40 pm

In The Economics of Brushing Teeth by Alan S. Blinder (1974), the author argues that economists have ignored a certain class of activities in the theory of human capital, such as brushing teeth. He says that the analysis can also be applied to equally important problems as “combing hair, washing hands, and cutting fingernails” (pg. 887).

Following from the human capital theory, each individual does whatever amount of toothbrushing to maximize his income (pg. 888). Blinder tells us that the “mother-told-me-so” explanation of toothbrushing rests on the fact that “offspring behave as if they maximize their income” since “the mother’s decisions are governed by income maximization for the child”.

The author then presents a theoretical model of toothbrushing by showing a wage maximization equation which involves the time spent brushing teeth as an independent variable:

Y=w(J,B)(T-B)+P, where Y=income, w=wage rate, J=index of job, B=time spent brushing teeth, T=time period available for working, and P=exogenously determined amount of unearned income.

Blinder puts the model into an empirical test and came up with a regression model for his data.

However, I must critique the article for relying on the value of the R-squared (i.e. “.79”) in concluding that the data confirm the prediction of the theoretical model. It is not, and never will be, the holy grail of econometrics.

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