Wife Sales

Review of Behavioral Economics, 2014, 1: 349-379

31 Pages Posted: 7 Dec 2015

See all articles by Peter J. Boettke

Peter J. Boettke

George Mason University - Department of Economics

Peter T. Leeson

George Mason University - Department of Economics

Jayme S. Lemke

Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Date Written: 2014

Abstract

For over a century, English husbands sold their wives at auctions. We argue that wife sales were an institutional response to an unusual constellation of property rights in Industrial Revolution-era English law. That constellation simultaneously required most wives to obtain their husbands’ consent to exit their marriages and denied most wives the right to own property. In doing so it precluded direct Coasean divorce bargains between spouses that could dissolve inefficient marriages when wives’ valuation of life outside their marriages was higher than husbands’ valuation of life inside them. To overcome this problem, spouses used wife sales to conduct divorce bargains indirectly. Wifesale auctions achieved this by identifying and leveraging “suitors” — men who valued unhappy wives more than their current husbands, who unhappy wives preferred to their current husbands, and who had the property rights required to buy unhappy wives’ right to exit marriage from their husbands. The resulting transactions enabled unhappy wives in inefficient marriages to exit those marriages where English law otherwise prevented them from doing so.

Keywords: Wife Sales, Coasean bargains, property rights

JEL Classification: N33; P14

Suggested Citation

Boettke, Peter J. and Leeson, Peter T. and Lemke, Jayme S., Wife Sales (2014). Review of Behavioral Economics, 2014, 1: 349-379. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2699905

Peter J. Boettke (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States
703-993-1149 (Phone)
703-993-1133 (Fax)

Peter T. Leeson

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.peterleeson.com

Jayme S. Lemke

Mercatus Center at George Mason University ( email )

4400 University Drive, PPE 1A1
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

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