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Biological Basics and the Economics of the Family

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  • Donald Cox

Abstract

Many economic models of the family are based on a generic "person 1 - person 2" household or "parent - child" family, rather than their anatomically correct counterparts: sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, and grandfathers and grandmothers. These economic models can offer powerful insights into family behavior, but also can leave certain patterns unexplained and neglect potentially important crosscurrents. "Bio-founded" approaches explicitly consider sex differences in reproductive capabilities and constraints, and can illuminate differences in the goals and interests of men versus women regarding preferences for a mate, decisions to marry or to terminate a marriage, how much to invest in a relationship, how much to invest in children, and how much to value the quality relative to the quantity of children Melding biological insights with family economics can cast new light on existing knowledge and open up novel paths for research. This paper generates biologically based hypotheses about family behavior by using Hamilton's rule, which holds that the costs and benefits of altruistic acts are weighted by the closeness of the genetic relationship, and by noting various fundamentals of human reproductive biology (for instance, a father might be uncertain of his genetic relationship to offspring, but a mother almost never is). This strategy generates a unified approach for modeling diverse aspects of family behavior. My discussion of biological fundamentals will include applications, empirical illustrations, and suggestions for how to merge these basics with current economic thinking.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.21.2.91
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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 21 (2007)
Issue (Month): 2 (Spring)
Pages: 91-108

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:21:y:2007:i:2:p:91-108

Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.21.2.91
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  10. Brinig, Margaret F, 1990. "Rings and Promises," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 6(1), pages 203-15, Spring.
  11. Raymond Fisman & Sheena S. Iyengar & Emir Kamenica & Itamar Simonson, 2006. "Gender Differences in Mate Selection: Evidence from a Speed Dating Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 121(2), pages 673-697, May.
  12. Michael J. Brien & Lee A. Lillard & Steven Stern, 2006. "Cohabitation, Marriage, And Divorce In A Model Of Match Quality," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 47(2), pages 451-494, 05.
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  14. Robert J. Willis, 1999. "A Theory of Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(S6), pages S33-S64, December.
  15. Rebecca Sear & Fiona Steele & Ian A. McGregor & Ruth Mace, 2002. "The effects of kin on child mortality in rural Gambia," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 247, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. De Fraja, Gianni, 2009. "The origin of utility: Sexual selection and conspicuous consumption," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 72(1), pages 51-69, October.
  2. Martin Wittenberg, 2009. "Lazy Rotten Sons? Relatedness, gender and the intra-household allocation of work and leisure in South Africa," SALDRU Working Papers 28, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
  3. Ichino, Andrea & Lindström, Elly-Ann & Viviano, Eliana, 2011. "Hidden Consequences of a First-Born Boy for Mothers," IZA Discussion Papers 5649, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Mu, Ren & Zhang, Xiaobo, 2008. "Gender difference in the long-term impact of famine:," IFPRI discussion papers 760, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
  5. Marco Francesconi & Christian Ghiglino & Motty Perry, 2010. "On the Origin of the Family," Economics Discussion Papers 682, University of Essex, Department of Economics.
  6. Chen, Joyce J., 2013. "Identifying non-cooperative behavior among spouses: Child outcomes in migrant-sending households," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 100(1), pages 1-18.
  7. Larry Taylor, 2011. "The transition to mid-life divorce," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 9(2), pages 251-271, June.
  8. Elly-Ann Lindström, 2013. "Gender Bias in Parental Leave: Evidence from Sweden," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 34(2), pages 235-248, June.
  9. Kanazawa, Satoshi & Savage, Joanne, 2009. "An evolutionary psychological perspective on social capital," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 30(6), pages 873-883, December.

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