Thursday, January 22, 2004

More on Door Opening

Steve at Southern Appeal admonishes me that opening doors for women is chivalrous. I'm not disputing that. In fact, I disagree with the argument that holding doors open is generally inefficient. It reminds me of the economists who puzzle over why people give each other Christmas gifts (or any gifts at all), when the value to the recipient is likely to be less than the cost to the gift-giver.1

The answer is obvious: Giving a gift is like telling a person, "I am willing to inconvenience myself so that you might benefit." And people like being told that. So that's why the overall enjoyment that people get from gifts is usually greater the price they themselves would have paid for the item.

Same for door-opening: It's like telling the other person, "I'm willing to inconvenience myself for a few seconds so that you might benefit." If you just look at the net savings (expenditures) of seconds involved, it might seem inefficient. But that calculation ignores the psychic benefit that people get from being given the "gift" of an open door.

BUT -- here's the kicker -- the elevator etiquette that I described below still makes no sense. As I already showed, letting women be the first to get on the elevator doesn't give them any benefit, because they still have to wait for the men to get on. It even disadvantages them because they are stuck at the back when it's time to get off. So holding the elevator door open, in many situations, is like saying, "I'm willing to inconvenience myself so that I might pretend to benefit you, even though you are actually inconvenienced as well." And that makes no sense.

1Joel Waldfogel's 1993 AER article The Deadweight Loss of Christmas seems to have spawned a veritable subfield in the economics literature. More papers include: J. van de Ven, The Economics of the Gift, Carol Horton Tremblay and Victor J. Tremblay, Children and the Economics of Christmas Gift-Giving, Bradley J. Ruffle and Orit Tykocinski, The Deadweight Loss of Christmas: Comment, Bradley J. Ruffle and Todd R. Kaplan, Here's something you never asked for, didn't know existed, and can't easily obtain: A search model of gift giving, and Sara J. Solnick and David Hemenway, The Deadweight Loss of Christmas: Comment.


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