IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

On the Origin of the Family


  • Francesconi, Marco

    () (University of Essex)

  • Ghiglino, Christian

    () (University of Essex)

  • Perry, Motty

    () (Hebrew University, Jerusalem)


This paper presents an overlapping generations model to explain why humans live in families rather than in other pair groupings. Since most non-human species are not familial, something special must be behind the family. It is shown that the two necessary features that explain the origin of the family are given by uncertain paternity and overlapping cohorts of dependent children. With such two features built into our model, and under the assumption that individuals care only for the propagation of their own genes, our analysis indicates that fidelity families dominate promiscuous pair bonding, in the sense that they can achieve greater survivorship and enhanced genetic fitness. The explanation lies in the free riding behavior that characterizes the interactions between competing fathers in the same promiscuous pair grouping. Kin ties could also be related to the emergence of the family. When we consider a kinship system in which an adult male transfers resources not just to his offspring but also to his younger siblings, we find that kin ties never emerge as an equilibrium outcome in a promiscuous environment. In a fidelity family environment, instead, kinship can occur in equilibrium and, when it does, it is efficiency enhancing in terms of greater survivorship and fitness. The model can also be used to shed light on the issue as to why virtually all major world religions are centered around the importance of the family.

Suggested Citation

  • Francesconi, Marco & Ghiglino, Christian & Perry, Motty, 2009. "On the Origin of the Family," IZA Discussion Papers 4637, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp4637

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gilles SAINT-PAUL, 2015. "Genes Legitimacy and Hypergamy : Another Look at the Economics of Marriage," JODE - Journal of Demographic Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 81(4), pages 331-377, December.
    2. Gary S. Becker, 1981. "A Treatise on the Family," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number beck81-1, January.
    3. Kiyotaki, Nobuhiro & Wright, Randall, 1989. "On Money as a Medium of Exchange," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(4), pages 927-954, August.
    4. Ingela Alger & Jörgen W. Weibull, 2010. "Kinship, Incentives, and Evolution," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(4), pages 1725-1758, September.
    5. Donna Ginther & Robert Pollak, 2004. "Family structure and children’s educational outcomes: Blended families, stylized facts, and descriptive regressions," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 41(4), pages 671-696, November.
    6. Theodore C. Bergstrom, 1996. "Economics in a Family Way," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(4), pages 1903-1934, December.
    7. Eric D. Gould & Omer Moav & Avi Simhon, 2008. "The Mystery of Monogamy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(1), pages 333-357, March.
    8. Bergstrom, Theodore C., 1993. "A survey of theories of the family," Handbook of Population and Family Economics,in: M. R. Rosenzweig & Stark, O. (ed.), Handbook of Population and Family Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 2, pages 21-79 Elsevier.
    9. Becker, Gary S, 1973. "A Theory of Marriage: Part I," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(4), pages 813-846, July-Aug..
    10. Shelly Lundberg & Robert A. Pollak, 2007. "The American Family and Family Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 3-26, Spring.
    11. Diamond, Arthur M, Jr & Locay, Luis, 1989. "Investment in Sister's Children as Behavior towards Risk," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 27(4), pages 719-735, October.
    12. Arthur J. Robson & Hillard S. Kaplan, 2003. "The Evolution of Human Life Expectancy and Intelligence in Hunter-Gatherer Economies," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 150-169, March.
    13. Arthur J. Robson, 2001. "The Biological Basis of Economic Behavior," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 39(1), pages 11-33, March.
    14. Dirk Bethmann & Michael Kvasnicka, 2011. "The institution of marriage," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 24(3), pages 1005-1032, July.
    15. Arthur Robson & Hillard Kaplan, 2006. "Viewpoint: The economics of hunter-gatherer societies and the evolution of human characteristics," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 39(2), pages 375-398, May.
    16. Theodore C. Bergstrom, 1996. "Economics in a Family Way," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(4), pages 1903-1934, December.
    17. Becker, Gary S, 1974. "A Theory of Marriage: Part II," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(2), pages 11-26, Part II, .
    18. 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.
    19. Aloysius Siow, 1998. "Differential Fecundity, Markets, and Gender Roles," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(2), pages 334-354, April.
    20. Becker, Gary S, 1976. "Altruism, Egoism, and Genetic Fitness: Economics and Sociobiology," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 817-826, September.
    21. Theodore C. Bergstrom, 2007. "Some Evolutionary Economics of Family Partnerships," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(2), pages 482-486, May.
    22. Weiss, Yoram & Willis, Robert J, 1985. "Children as Collective Goods and Divorce Settlements," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 3(3), pages 268-292, July.
    23. Lena Edlund & Evelyn Korn, 2002. "A Theory of Prostitution," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(1), pages 181-214, February.
    24. Lena Edlund, 2006. "Marriage: Past, Present, Future?," CESifo Economic Studies, CESifo, vol. 52(4), pages 621-639, December.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Why families?
      by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2010-02-02 21:39:00


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. David De La Croix & Fabio Mariani, 2015. "From Polygyny to Serial Monogamy: A Unified Theory of Marriage Institutions," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 82(2), pages 565-607.
    2. Dirk Bethmann, 2011. "Marriage Regimes," FEMM Working Papers 110029, Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg, Faculty of Economics and Management.
    3. Brishti Guha, 2012. "Gambling on Genes: Ambiguity Aversion Explains Investment in Sisters’ Children," Working Papers 33-2012, Singapore Management University, School of Economics.
    4. Lena Edlund, 2013. "The Role of Paternity Presumption and Custodial Rights for Understanding Marriage Patterns," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 80(320), pages 650-669, October.
    5. repec:eee:wdevel:v:100:y:2017:i:c:p:69-84 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Fujii, Tomoki, 2017. "Dynamic Poverty Decomposition Analysis: An Application to the Philippines," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 69-84.
    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.

    More about this item


    fatherhood uncertainty; free riding; kinship systems; religion; overlapping generations; divorce and blended families;

    JEL classification:

    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • D01 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Microeconomic Behavior: Underlying Principles
    • D10 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - General
    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    This item is featured on the following reading lists or Wikipedia pages:
    1. Economic Logic blog


    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:iza:izadps:dp4637. 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: (Mark Fallak). 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.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with 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.