Gary Becker's Contributions to Family and Household Economics
47 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2002
Date Written: September 2002
Gary Becker's influence on the economics of the family has been pervasive. His ideas have dominated research in the economics of the family, shaping the tools we use, the questions we ask, and the answers we give. The foundational assumptions of Becker's economic approach to the family -- maximizing behavior and equilibrium -- as well as such primary auxiliary assumptions as household production and interdependent preferences, are now widely accepted not only by economists but also by family sociologists, demographers, and others who study the family. Yet the interesting and provocative implications of Becker's economic approach to the family do not follow from the foundational assumptions or from the primary auxiliary assumptions. Instead they depend on contested auxiliary assumptions to which neoclassical economics has no commitment and which lack empirical support. This paper discusses the crucial role of auxiliary assumptions in Becker's analysis of the family, first in the context of preferences, then in the context of household production, and finally in the context of family or household collective choice.
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