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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Donald Cox, 2007. "Biological Basics and the Economics of the Family," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 91-108, Spring.
  • 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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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.21.2.91
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Mu, Ren & Zhang, Xiaobo, 2008. "Gender difference in the long-term impact of famine:," IFPRI discussion papers 760, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    2. Strulik, Holger, 2015. "Desire and Development," Annual Conference 2015 (Muenster): Economic Development - Theory and Policy 112818, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    3. Masahiro Hori & Nahoko Mitsuyama & Satoshi Shimizutani, 2016. "New Evidence on Intra-Household Allocation of Resources in Japanese Households," The Japanese Economic Review, Japanese Economic Association, vol. 67(1), pages 77-95, March.
    4. 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.
    5. Francesconi, Marco & Ghiglino, Christian & Perry, Motty, 2009. "On the Origin of the Family," IZA Discussion Papers 4637, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    6. repec:eee:thpobi:v:82:y:2012:i:4:p:355-363 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Brishti Guha, 2012. "Grandparents as Guards: A Game Theoretic Analysis of Inheritance and Post Marital Residence in a World of Uncertain Paternity," Working Papers 37-2012, Singapore Management University, School of Economics.
    8. Ichino, Andrea & Lindström, Elly-Ann & Viviano, Eliana, 2014. "Hidden consequences of a first-born boy for mothers," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 123(3), pages 274-278.
    9. Daniel Suryadarma, 2015. "Gender differences in numeracy in Indonesia: evidence from a longitudinal dataset," Education Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 23(2), pages 180-198, April.
    10. Chang, Simon & Zhang, Xiaobo, 2015. "Mating competition and entrepreneurship," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 292-309.
    11. Klaus Prettner & Holger Strulik, 2017. "Gender equity and the escape from poverty," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(1), pages 55-74.
    12. Ho, Chi Pui, 2016. "Rise of Women in Unified Growth Theory: French Development Process and Policy Implications," MPRA Paper 73864, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    13. Kanazawa, Satoshi & Savage, Joanne, 2009. "An evolutionary psychological perspective on social capital," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 30(6), pages 873-883, December.
    14. repec:spr:grdene:v:21:y:2012:i:4:d:10.1007_s10726-010-9220-8 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. 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.
    16. 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.
    17. Francesconi, Marco & Ghiglino, Christian & Perry, Motty, 2016. "An evolutionary theory of monogamy," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 166(C), pages 605-628.
    18. Larry Taylor, 2011. "The transition to mid-life divorce," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 9(2), pages 251-271, June.
    19. 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.
    20. Cristiano M. Costa & Fernando Caio Galdi & Fabio Y. S. Motoki, 2014. "Family management: creating or destroying firm value?," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 34(4), pages 2292-2302.

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