Robert Pollak

The Work Goes On

Robert Pollak on the “two career problem” and modeling the economics of the family


Robert Pollak, the Hernreich Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the Washington University in St. Louis, joins the podcast to discuss his work modeling economic decisions and bargaining within families and how he and his wife, an English professor and American poetry scholar, navigated the “two career problem.”

In this episode, Pollak and Ashenfelter discuss:

  • Pollak’s childhood in the D.C. suburbs, and why he decided to pivot from the study of law to the study of economics.
  • Pollak’s work modeling economic decisions within families, often with Shelly Lundberg at the University of California - Santa Barbara, which began with a study of the British child allowance developed by Britain's Labour Party in the mid-1970s (1).
  • How the “two career problem” led Pollak to move around from university to university. “We were each ambitious for ourselves, but also for the other,” he said of his career and his wife’s career.
  • Why the University of Pennsylvania’s rule limiting the number of times a faculty member can be on leave is often called the “Pollak rule.”

Robert Pollak earned his Ph.D. at MIT in 1964. "The Work Goes On"—a podcast produced as Princeton's Industrial Relations Section (IR Section) celebrates its 100th anniversary—is an oral history of industrial relations and labor economics hosted by Princeton's Orley Ashenfelter.

  • Pollak, Robert A. “Family Bargaining with Altruism.” Cambridge, Mass: National Bureau of Economic Research - Working paper 30499, 2022.
  • Behrman, Jere Richard, Robert A. Pollak, and Paul Taubman. "From Parent to Child: Intrahousehold Allocations and Intergenerational Relations In the United States." Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
  • Pollak, Robert A., and Terence J Wales. "Demand System Specification and Estimation." New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.


  1. Correction: A previous description of this episode incorrectly attributed the creation of the British Child Allowance to the government of Margaret Thatcher. The process to establish the child allowance started in 1974 when the Labour politician Harold Wilson served as prime minister. A bill to establish the child allowance was formally introduced in 1975 by Labour MP Barbara Castle. It was signed into law in 1977 during the government of James Callaghan.