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How Do People Decide to Allocate Transfers Among Family Members?


  • Donald Cox

    () (Boston College)


Despite recent advances in data collection and the growing number of empirical studies that examine private intergenerational transfers, there still exist significant gaps in our knowledge. Who transfers what to whom, and why do they it? I argue that some of these gaps could be filled by departing from the standard parent-child framework and concentrating instead on fathers, mothers, sons and daughters in a way that accounts for fundamentalÑand sometimes obviousÑmale-female differences in concerns and objectives in family life. Elementary sex differences in reproductive biology constitute the basic building blocks of studies of family behavior in many disciplines, but despite recent progress they get far less attention than they deserve in economic studies of the family. I explore, separately, the implications of three basic biological facts for intergenerational transfer behavior. The first is paternity uncertainty: how does it affect the incentives of fathers, mothers and of various grandparents to invest in children? The second is differing reproductive prospects of sons versus daughters: when are sons a better investment than daughters and vice versa? The third is conflict: How much acrimony might we expect to occur in families, and why? In examining these issues I also explore household survey data from the United States. This preliminary evidence is consistent with non-biological as well as biological explanations of behavior. Nonetheless, the biological focus confers two advantages, by generating falsifiable predictions and by illuminating new avenues for empirical work. There is enormous potential for further micro-data-based empirical work in this area.

Suggested Citation

  • Donald Cox, 2001. "How Do People Decide to Allocate Transfers Among Family Members?," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 514, Boston College Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:boc:bocoec:514

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Cox, Donald, 1987. "Motives for Private Income Transfers," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(3), pages 508-546, June.
    2. Esther Duflo, 2003. "Grandmothers and Granddaughters: Old-Age Pensions and Intrahousehold Allocation in South Africa," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 17(1), pages 1-25, June.
    3. Theodore C. Bergstrom, 1996. "Economics in a Family Way," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(4), pages 1903-1934, December.
    4. Paul L. Menchik, 1980. "Primogeniture, Equal Sharing, and the U.S. Distribution of Wealth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 94(2), pages 299-316.
    5. Theodore C. Bergstrom, 1996. "Economics in a Family Way," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(4), pages 1903-1934, December.
    6. Sloan, Frank A & Picone, Gabriel & Hoerger, Thomas J, 1997. "The Supply of Children's Time to Disabled Elderly Parents," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 35(2), pages 295-308, April.
    7. Case, Anne & Deaton, Angus, 1998. "Large Cash Transfers to the Elderly in South Africa," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 108(450), pages 1330-1361, September.
    8. Rosenzweig, Mark R & Stark, Oded, 1989. "Consumption Smoothing, Migration, and Marriage: Evidence from Rural India," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(4), pages 905-926, August.
    9. Becker, Gary S, 1993. "Nobel Lecture: The Economic Way of Looking at Behavior," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(3), pages 385-409, June.
    10. McGarry, Kathleen, 1999. "Inter vivos transfers and intended bequests," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 73(3), pages 321-351, September.
    11. Hirshleifer, Jack, 1977. "Economics from a Biological Viewpoint," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(1), pages 1-52, April.
    12. Tauchen, Helen V & Witte, Ann Dryden & Long, Sharon K, 1991. "Domestic Violence: A Nonrandom Affair," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 32(2), pages 491-511, May.
    13. Aloysius Siow, 1998. "Differential Fecundity, Markets, and Gender Roles," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(2), pages 334-354, April.
    14. Robert J. Willis, 1999. "A Theory of Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(S6), pages 33-64, December.
    15. Bergstrom, Theodore C, 1989. "A Fresh Look at the Rotten Kid Theorem--and Other Household Mysteries," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(5), pages 1138-1159, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Audrey Light & Kathleen McGarry, 2004. "Why Parents Play Favorites: Explanations for Unequal Bequests," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1669-1681, December.

    More about this item


    Private transfers; gender; biology; evolution; conflict; public transfers; social secutiry; marriage; children; family;

    JEL classification:

    • D10 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - General
    • D13 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Production and Intrahouse Allocation
    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers
    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • J18 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Public Policy
    • B52 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Current Heterodox Approaches - - - Historical; Institutional; Evolutionary

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