Monday, August 3, 2009

Recessed toileting

I guess this post in the NYT is something I could hardly let go.
This year, it seems, the sagging economy may now be having an unexpected effect on methods and timing of training. Disposable diapers are not cheap (an average of 42 cents each); neither are training pants (68 cents a piece), which, while convenient, do not rise to the level of necessary. Sales of the latter are falling ...
The theory is simple. Pull-ups are, at least at the margin, a substitute for putting more effort into toilet training but come at two costs -- it may take longer and it definitely costs more money. When money is tight, you cut back on pull-ups and faced with mess but in more effort so training occurs at a faster rate. (Technically, theory is that toilet training is rare example of an inferior or Giffen good). The post provides an anecdote to back this up.

But I would be remiss if I didn't point out that it could move in another way. It is unclear whether the fall in sales (usually revenue) is quantity -- number of pants/nappies -- or price -- people switching to cheaper brands. Our now 5 year old is not yet trained at night. It might be that she isn't ready but I'll tell you that there ain't much parental effort going into it this time around. (Regular readers will understand why we might have just given up after Child No.2).

Anyhow, if she was just going to wee in them, we moved away from Pull-Ups to a much cheaper no-name brand which does the job. So our expenditures on this are way down this year. The problem is that with cheaper 'units' we have even less incentive to make a push to get her out of her training pants. So if this is the case, then the recession may not lead to accelerated toileting. Toilet training could be a normal good that happens quicker when income rises.

So there you go. I've matched the NYT anecdote with a countervailing one and resolved nothing. I wonder what brave economist is going to collect the data to resolve the issue of whether toileting training is a normal or Giffen good?