Friday, September 15, 2006

Social Opportunity Cost

The New York times today runs an article on the split lives of New Yorkers who spend much of their summers in the Hamptons.

This Labor Day weekend, as on so many Labor Day weekends past, Mr. Lipnick said, his family and their friends exchanged phone numbers and promises to meet for dinner in the city during the off-season: “They said, ‘We’ll get in touch over the winter,’ and we said, ‘We’ll get in touch over the winter.’ ”

The wise will not sit waiting by the phone.

The article explains how many New Yorkers have summer friends in the Hamptons and winter friends in the city, and that even when those summer friends live on the same block in the city, the two worlds don't meet. The author presents some possible explanations for this "strange" phenomenon:

  1. People just don't have time for more friends in the city.
  2. Class issues:
    “There’s a classless situation here,” said Jeff Evans, general manager of Lake Naomi, a country club community in Pocono Pines, Pa. “People often don’t know what other people’s occupations are and they don’t care. The distinctions might be more of an issue if they got together during the fall and winter.”
  3. Summer friends are people you don't really like:
    “Sometimes you realized that having a common experience was great but that you didn’t necessarily like the people you were having it with.”
What any economist will realize, though, is that all of these reasons boil down to the same thing: during the summer (i.e. on vacation), the opportunity cost of socialization is reduced. During the workweek and normal weekends, free time is extremely limited (not a lot time for friends, reason #1) and may be very costly (babysitters, expensive nights out in Manhattan) and thus in order to spend time with a particular friend or friends, the value of the that time spent needs to be pretty high.

While on vacation, this is no longer true: you have all day to do whatever you want, so time spent with other people doesn't crowd out other valuable activities. That is, the price of being friends with people goes way down. As a result, you use that time to "buy" both more and "lower quality" friends. For example, either you don't really like them that much or you'll drop the snootiness a bit and be friends with someone "below" you.

What's great is that at least vactioner interviewed for the article recognizes this outright:
“You can be less discriminating.” Ms. Braddock said. “You look at your time differently in the country. If you’re having dinner for two hours with people you don’t like, you’ve had 10 other hours to do what you wanted. You can be more tolerant because you’re being pleased by so much around you."

“But on a precious Saturday night in the city,” she continued. “you’re not going to want to hire a baby sitter and spend a couple of hundred bucks to have dinner with them.”


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