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A Reformulation of the Economic Theory of Fertility

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  • Gary S. Becker
  • Robert J. Barro

Abstract

When parents are altruistic toward children, the choices of fertility and consumption come from the maximization of a dynastic utility function. The maximization conditions imply first, an arbitrage condition for consumption across generations, and second, the equation of the benefit from an extra child to the net cost of rearing that child. These conditions imply that fertility in open economies depends positively on the world interest rate, on the degree of altruism, and on the growth of child-survival probabilities; and negatively on the rate of technical progress and the growth rate of social security. The growth of consumption across generations depends on changes in the net cost of rearing children, but not on interest rates or tirne preference. Even when we include life-cycle elements, we conclude that the growth of aggregate consumption per capita depends in the long run on the growth of consumption across generations. Thereby we show that real interest rates and growth rates of consumption per capita would be unrelated in the long run.

Suggested Citation

  • Gary S. Becker & Robert J. Barro, 1986. "A Reformulation of the Economic Theory of Fertility," NBER Working Papers 1793, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:1793
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    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. Sheshinski, Eytan & Weiss, Yoram, 1982. "Inequality within and between Families," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(1), pages 105-127, February.
    3. Becker, Gary S & Tomes, Nigel, 1976. "Child Endowments and the Quantity and Quality of Children," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(4), pages 143-162, August.
    4. Barro, Robert J, 1974. "Are Government Bonds Net Wealth?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(6), pages 1095-1117, Nov.-Dec..
    5. Behrman, Jere R & Pollak, Robert A & Taubman, Paul, 1982. "Parental Preferences and Provision for Progeny," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(1), pages 52-73, February.
    6. Summers, Lawrence H, 1981. "Capital Taxation and Accumulation in a Life Cycle Growth Model," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(4), pages 533-544, September.
    7. Feldstein, Martin S, 1974. "Social Security, Induced Retirement, and Aggregate Capital Accumulation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(5), pages 905-926, Sept./Oct.
    8. Razin, Assaf & Ben-Zion, Uri, 1975. "An Intergenerational Model of Population Growth," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 65(5), pages 923-933, December.
    9. Wildasin, David E, 1990. "Non-neutrality of Debt with Endogenous Fertility," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 42(2), pages 414-428, April.
    10. Robert J. Willis, "undated". "A Theory of the Equilibrium Interest Rate in an Overlapping Generations Model: Life Cycles, Institutions, and Population Growth," University of Chicago - Population Research Center 85-8, Chicago - Population Research Center.
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