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Rotten Spouses, Family Transfers and Public Goods


  • Cremer, Helmuth

    () (Toulouse School of Economics)

  • Roeder, Kerstin

    () (University of Augsburg)


We show that once interfamily exchanges are considered, Becker's rotten kids mechanism has some remarkable implications that have gone hitherto unnoticed. Specifically, we establish that Cornes and Silva's (1999) result of efficiency in the contribution game amongst siblings extends to a setting where the contributors (spouses) belong to different families. More strikingly still, the mechanism does not just have consequences for efficiency but it may have dramatic redistributive implications. In particular, we show that the rotten kids mechanism combined with a contribution game to a household public good may lead to an astonishing equalization of consumptions between the spouses and their parents, even when their parents' wealth levels differ. We consider two families, each consisting of a parent and an adult child, who are "linked" by the young spouses. Children contribute part of their time to a household (couple) public good and provide attention to their respective parents "in exchange" for a bequest. Spouses behave towards their respective parents like Becker's rotten kids; they are purely selfish and anticipate that their altruistic parents will leave them a bequest. The most striking results obtain when wages are equal and when parents' initial wealth levels are not too different. For very large wealth differences the mechanism must be supplemented by a (mandatory) transfer that brings them back into the relevant range. When wages differ but are similar the outcome will be near efficient (and near egalitarian).

Suggested Citation

  • Cremer, Helmuth & Roeder, Kerstin, 2014. "Rotten Spouses, Family Transfers and Public Goods," IZA Discussion Papers 7998, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp7998

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Becker, Gary S, 1974. "A Theory of Social Interactions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(6), pages 1063-1093, Nov.-Dec..
    2. Cremer, Helmuth & Roeder, Kerstin, 2013. "Long-term care and lazy rotten kids," TSE Working Papers 13-424, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).
    3. Hirshleifer, Jack, 1977. "Shakespeare vs. Becker on Altruism: The Importance of Having the Last Word," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 15(2), pages 500-502, June.
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    9. Bernheim, B Douglas & Bagwell, Kyle, 1988. "Is Everything Neutral?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(2), pages 308-338, April.
    10. Neil Bruce & Michael Waldman, 1990. "The Rotten-Kid Theorem Meets the Samaritan's Dilemma," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 105(1), pages 155-165.
    11. Wolff, Francois-Charles, 2006. "Microeconomic models of family transfers," Handbook on the Economics of Giving, Reciprocity and Altruism, Elsevier.
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    13. Cigno, A., 2016. "Conflict and Cooperation Within the Family, and Between the State and the Family, in the Provision of Old-Age Security," Handbook of the Economics of Population Aging, Elsevier.
    14. Richard C. Cornes & Emilson C. D. Silva, 1999. "Rotten Kids, Purity, and Perfection," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(5), pages 1034-1040, October.
    15. Norton Edward C. & Nicholas Lauren H. & Huang Sean Sheng-Hsiu, 2013. "Informal Care and Inter-vivos Transfers: Results from the National Longitudinal Survey of Mature Women," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 14(2), pages 377-400, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:hapoch:v1_609 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. João Ricardo Faria & Emilson C.D. Silva, 2017. "Optimal Timing in Rotten Kid Families," CESifo Working Paper Series 6333, CESifo Group Munich.
    3. Alessandro Cigno & Mizuki Komura & Annalisa Luporini, 2017. "Self-enforcing family rules, marriage and the (non)neutrality of public intervention," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 30(3), pages 805-834, July.
    4. Cigno, A., 2016. "Conflict and Cooperation Within the Family, and Between the State and the Family, in the Provision of Old-Age Security," Handbook of the Economics of Population Aging, Elsevier.

    More about this item


    rotten kids; altruism; private provision of public good; subgame perfect equilibrium; family aid;

    JEL classification:

    • D13 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Production and Intrahouse Allocation
    • D61 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Allocative Efficiency; Cost-Benefit Analysis
    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers

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