Wife Sales

Posted: 8 Jun 2011

See all articles by Peter T. Leeson

Peter T. Leeson

George Mason University - Department of Economics; George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Peter J. Boettke

George Mason University - Department of Economics; Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Jayme S. Lemke

Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Date Written: June 7, 2011

Abstract

For over a century English husbands sold their wives at public auctions. We argue that wife sales were indirect Coasean divorce bargains that permitted wives to buy the right to exit marriage from their husbands in a legal environment that denied them the property rights required to buy that right directly. Wife-sale auctions identified "suitors" - men who valued unhappy wives more than their current husbands, who unhappy wives valued more than their current husbands, and who had the property rights required to buy unhappy wives' right to exit marriage from their husbands. These suitors enabled spouses in inefficient marriages to dissolve their marriages where direct Coasean divorce bargains between them were impossible. Wife sales were an efficiency-enhancing institutional response to the unusual constellation of property rights that Industrial Revolution-era English law created. They made husbands, suitors, and wives better off.

Suggested Citation

Leeson, Peter T. and Boettke, Peter J. and Lemke, Jayme S., Wife Sales (June 7, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1859387

Peter T. Leeson (Contact Author)

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Peter J. Boettke

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

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Mercatus Center at George Mason University ( email )

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Jayme S. Lemke

Mercatus Center at George Mason University ( email )

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