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The Evolution of Altruistic Preferences: Mothers versus Fathers

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  • Alger, Ingela
  • Cox, Donald

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Alger, Ingela & Cox, Donald, 2012. "The Evolution of Altruistic Preferences: Mothers versus Fathers," TSE Working Papers 12-369, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE), revised May 2013.
  • Handle: RePEc:tse:wpaper:26679
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Doepke, M. & Tertilt, M., 2016. "Families in Macroeconomics," Handbook of Macroeconomics, Elsevier.
    2. François Cochard & Hélène Couprie & Astrid Hopfensitz, 2018. "What if women earned more than their spouses? An experimental investigation of work-division in couples," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 21(1), pages 50-71, March.
    3. Shoshana Grossbard & Sankar Mukhopadhyay, 2013. "Children, spousal love, and happiness: an economic analysis," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 11(3), pages 447-467, September.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D1 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior
    • D13 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Production and Intrahouse Allocation
    • 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
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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