IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this book chapter

Extended Family and Kinship Networks: Economic Insights and Evolutionary Directions


  • Cox, Donald
  • Fafchamps, Marcel


What do we know about the role of extended families and kinship networks for redistributing resources? What gaps in our knowledge most need to be filled? How can we best organize current work and identify priorities for future research? These questions are important for several reasons: households in developing countries depend on friends and relatives for their livelihood and sometimes their survival; help exchanged within extended families and kin networks affects the distribution of economic well-being, and this private assistance and exchange can interact with public income redistribution. Yet despite rapid recent progress there remain significant deficiencies in our understanding of the economics of extended families. Researchers confront a large and sometimes bewildering array of findings. We review and assess this literature by starting with an emphasis on standard economic concerns, most notably the possible interaction between government-provided social insurance and private kinship networks. Our review of the evidence suggests that the specter of complete "crowding out," whereby introduction or expansion of public transfers merely supplants private transfers, appears quite remote, though not impossible. However, numerous studies do suggest partial - but nonetheless substantial - crowding out, on the order of a 20-to-30-cent reduction in private transfers per dollar increase in public transfers. But the range of estimated effects is exceedingly wide, with many studies suggesting little private transfer response at all. Reconciling and explaining these disparate findings is a priority for future research. Theorizing about the economics of families should move beyond its concentration on income effects. The empirical literature indeed indicates that non-economic variables, such as age and gender, can have a powerful association with private transfers. We suggest that economists tap into the extensive non-economic literature that takes an evolutionary approach to the family. We show that this literature provides valuable guidance for modeling the effects of age, sex and relatedness in the interactions among extended family members. The evolutionary literature has much to offer economists interested in family behavior by proposing novel interpretations of existing findings and pointing out new and fruitful directions for future research. We encourage economists to pay more attention to this approach when studying kinship networks.

Suggested Citation

  • Cox, Donald & Fafchamps, Marcel, 2008. "Extended Family and Kinship Networks: Economic Insights and Evolutionary Directions," Handbook of Development Economics, Elsevier.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:devchp:5-58

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    More about this item


    extended family; kinship network; private transfers; remittances; inter-household transfers; crowding out; risk sharing; Hamilton's rule; cultural norms;

    JEL classification:

    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:devchp:5-58. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.