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The Evolution of Altruistic Preferences: Mothers versus Fathers

  • Alger, Ingela
  • Cox, Donald

What can evolutionary biology tell us about male-female differences in preferences concerning family matters? Might mothers be more solicitous toward offspring than fathers, for example? The economics literature has documented gender differences—children benefit more from money put in the hands of mothers rather than fathers, for example—and these differences are thought to be partly due to preferences. Yet for good reason family economics is mostly concerned with how prices and incomes affect behavior against a backdrop of exogenous preferences. Evolutionary biology complements this approach by treating preferences as the outcome of natural selection. We mine the well-developed biological literature to make a prima facie case for evolutionary roots of parental preferences. We consider the most rudimentary of traits—sex differences in gamete size and internal fertilization—and explain how they have been thought to generate malefemale differences in altruism toward children and other preferences related to family behavior. The evolutionary approach to the family illuminates connections between issues typically thought distinct in family economics, such as parental care and marriage markets.

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Paper provided by Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST) in its series IAST Working Papers with number 12-02.

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Date of creation: 31 Dec 2012
Date of revision: May 2013
Handle: RePEc:tse:iastwp:26675
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