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The origin of utility: Sexual selection and conspicuous consumption

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  • De Fraja, Gianni

Abstract

This paper proposes an explanation for the universal human desire for increasing consumption and the associated propensity to trade survival opportunity off conspicuous consumption. I argue that this desire was moulded in evolutionary times by a mechanism known to biologists as sexual selection, whereby an observable trait - conspicuous consumption in this case - is used by members of one sex to signal their unobservable characteristics valuable to members of the opposite sex. It then shows that the standard economics problem of utility maximisation is formally equivalent to the standard biology problem of the maximisation of individual fitness, the ability to pass genes to future generations, and thus establishes a rigorous theoretical foundation for including conspicuous consumption in the utility function.

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  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:72:y:2009:i:1:p:51-69
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    Cited by:

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    2. Raúl Ramos & Esteban Sanromá & Hipólito Simón, 2014. "Public-Private Sector Wage Differentials by Type of Contract: Evidence from Spain," Hacienda Pública Española, IEF, vol. 208(1), pages 107-141, March.
    3. Omer Moav and & Zvika Neeman, 2012. "Saving Rates and Poverty: The Role of Conspicuous Consumption and Human Capital," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 122(563), pages 933-956, September.
    4. Jason Collins & Boris Baer & Ernst Weber, 2015. "Sexual selection, conspicuous consumption and economic growth," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 17(2), pages 189-206, July.
    5. Schubert, Christian & Cordes, Christian, 2013. "Role models that make you unhappy: light paternalism, social learning, and welfare," Journal of Institutional Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 9(02), pages 131-159, June.
    6. Jana Friedrichsen & Dirk Engelmann, 2013. "Who Cares for Social Image? Interactions between Intrinsic Motivation and Social Image Concerns," CESifo Working Paper Series 4514, CESifo Group Munich.
    7. Anne-Kathrin Bronsert & Amihai Glazer & Kai A. Konrad, 2017. "Old money, the nouveaux riches and Brunhilde’s marriage strategy," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 30(1), pages 163-186, January.
    8. Foster, John, 2011. "Energy, aesthetics and knowledge in complex economic systems," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 80(1), pages 88-100.
    9. Jason Collins & Boris Baer & Ernst Juerg Weber, 2016. "Evolutionary Biology in Economics: A Review," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 92(297), pages 291-312, June.
    10. Armando Memushi, 2014. "Conspicuous Consumption and Albanians: Determinant Factors," South-Eastern Europe Journal of Economics, Association of Economic Universities of South and Eastern Europe and the Black Sea Region, vol. 12(1), pages 65-87.
    11. Bronsert, Anne-Kathrin & Glazer, Amihai & Konrad, Kai A., 2014. "Old Money, the Nouveau Riche and Brunhilde's Marriage Dilemma," Annual Conference 2014 (Hamburg): Evidence-based Economic Policy 100385, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    12. Richters, Oliver & Siemoneit, Andreas, 2017. "Fear of stagnation? A review on growth imperatives," VÖÖ Discussion Papers 6/2017, Vereinigung für Ökologische Ökonomie e.V. (VÖÖ).
    13. Martínez-Mora, Francisco & Puy, M. Socorro, 2014. "The determinants and electoral consequences of asymmetric preferences," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 33(C), pages 85-97.
    14. Jellal, Mohamed, 2014. "Diaspora transferts statut social et inégalité
      [Diaspora remittances social status and inequality]
      ," MPRA Paper 57325, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    15. Anne-Kathrin Bronsert & Amihai Glazer & Kai A. Konrad, 2014. "Old Money, the Nouveaux Riches and Brunhilde’s Marriage Strategy," Working Papers tax-mpg-rps-2014-15, Max Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public Finance.
    16. Baomin Dong & Tianpeng Zhou, 2013. "A Moral Hazard Model of Parental Care," Hacienda Pública Española, IEF, vol. 207(4), pages 101-115, December.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Natural selection Utility Darwin Evolution Conspicuous consumption Veblen Sexual selection;

    JEL classification:

    • D01 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Microeconomic Behavior: Underlying Principles
    • C73 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Stochastic and Dynamic Games; Evolutionary Games

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