Have you heard of Professor Jay Pil Choi, of Michigan State University’s Economic Department? He’s the author of weighty contributions to economic academia such as “Recent Developments in Antitrust”, “Tying in Two-Sided Markets with Multi-Homing”, and “Up or Down? A Male Economist’s Manifesto on the Toilet Seat Etiquette”.
This last article was written all the way back in 2002, but it’s only recently been published in the journal “Economic Inquiry”. So perhaps now is a good time to review this paper.
Professor Jay Pil Choi examines the economic efficiency of three possible household rules:
1) Always leave the toilet seat up when you leave the bathroom
2) Always leave the toilet seat down when you leave the bathroom
3) Leave the seat the way you used it (the “selfish” rule).
The conclusion: “The main result is that unless there is a large degree of asymmetry in the inconvenience costs of changing the seat position across users, the selfish rule is the most efficient one”. The “costs” involved in adjusting the toilet seat for women have to significantly exceed the same “costs” for men for the “leave the toilet seat down rule” to be efficient.
There are a number of problems with this conclusion:
1) As Professor Choi himself points out, he has not modelled the aesthetic benefits of different toilet seat positions
2) Depending on, to put it delicately, the proportion of men’s visits to toilets that involve requiring the seat down, a much smaller “asymmetry in inconvenience costs” is needed for the “leave the seat down” rule to be efficient.
3) There is another option: close the lid. This dramatically reduces the risk of objects accidentally falling in. You can even buy insurance to cover this risk, but why do this when you can eliminate the risk yourself?
Later musings on this topic have included Harter (2005) and Siddiqi (2006), who have applied the mighty tools of game theory to this question.
Should you wish to print out copies to read on your next visit to the toilet, here are the links:
A game theoretic approach to the toilet seat problem, Richard Harter
The social norm of leaving the toilet seat down, Hammad Siddiqi