The Economics of Toilet Seats

Up or down? The debate is as old as the toilet itself. An enterprising young economist named Jay Pil Choi wrote a working paper titled “Up or Down? A Male Economist’s Manifesto on the Toilet Seat Etiquette,” and it turns out the correct answer is neither.

If the seat is always left down, men incur an inconvenience cost of 2: 1 to lift the seat, and 1 to lower it. Women incur a cost of 0. This is hardly fair.

Leaving the seat up is no better. The costs are the same. They just switch gender. This isn’t fair for women, who must lower the seat and raise it every time they use the loo.

Choi’s paper suggests a third way: leave the seat as you left it. As he explains:

With either up or down rule, each member of one gender group has to incur the inconvenience costs two times with each usage… This inefficiency can be avoided by using the selfish rule since the inconvenience costs are incurred only when the consecutive users are from different genders.

Quite clever. The highest possible inconvenience cost is 1. And if consecutive users are of the same gender, inconvenience costs are 0.

Unfortunately, this writer must continue to follow the down rule because his cats are too thirsty for their own good.