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On the Origin of the Family

40 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2010  

Marco Francesconi

University of Essex; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

Christian Ghiglino

University of London - School of Economics and Finance

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 2010


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.

Keywords: divorce and blended families, fatherhood uncertainty, free riding, kinship systems, overlapping generations, religion

JEL Classification: C72, D01, D10, J12, Z13

Suggested Citation

Francesconi, Marco and Ghiglino, Christian, On the Origin of the Family (January 2010). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP7629. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1539301

Marco Francesconi (Contact Author)

University of Essex ( email )

Wivenhoe Park
Colchester CO4 3SQ
United Kingdom
+44 1206 873 534 (Phone)
+44 1206 873 151 (Fax)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072

Christian Ghiglino

University of London - School of Economics and Finance ( email )

Mile End Road
London, E1 4NS
United Kingdom

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