Economics of marriage

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The economics of marriage includes the economic analysis of household formation and break up, of production and distribution decisions within the household. It is closely related to the law and economics of marriages and households. Grossbard-Shechtman (1999a and 1999b) identifies three approaches to the subject: the Marxist approach (Friedrich Engels (1884) and Himmelweit and Mohun (1977)), the neo-classical approach (Gary Becker (1974)) and the game theoretic approaches (Marilyn Manser, Murray Brown, Marjorie McElroy and Mary Jane Horney).[1][2]

Economic origins of marriage[edit]

Richard Wrangham puts forward the view that women cooking for men is fundamental to marriage in hunter-gatherer societies.[3]

Many such examples suggest that the mating system is constrained by the way species are socially adapted to their food supply. ... The consequence of man's economic dependence takes different forms in different societies, but recall that according to Jane Collier and Michelle Rosaldo, his needing a wife to provide food is universal among hunter-gatherers. Food, it seems, routinely drives a man's marriage decision more than the need for a sexual partner.

This extends to men stealing women.[4]

Among the Inuit, where a woman contributed no food calories, her cooking and production of warm, dry hunting clothes were vital: a man cannot both hunt and cook. The pressure could drive widowers or bachelors to neighboring territories in an attempt to steal a woman, even if it meant killing her husband. The problem was so pervasive that ... unfamiliar men would normally be killed even before questions were asked. Lust was not the motivation for stealing wives. "The vital importance of a wife to perform domestic services provided the most usual motive for abduction," according to ethnographer David Riches.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Grossbard-Shechtman, Shoshana (1999)a "Marriage" in Encyclopedia of Political Economy, edited by Phillip O'Hara. London: Routledge
  2. ^ Grossbard-Shechtman, Shoshana (1999)b "Marriage, Theories of," in Elgar Companion to Feminist Economics, edited by Meg Lewis and Janice Peterson. Aldershot, U.K.: Edward Elgar
  3. ^ Wrangham, Richard (2009). How Cooking Made us Human. p. 175. 
  4. ^ Wrangham, Richard (2009). How Cooking Made us Human. p. 169. 

Additional References[edit]

Becker, G. (1974) "A theory of marriage", in: T. W. Schultz, ed., Economics of the family. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 293–344.

Engels, F (1884). The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State: in the light of the researches of Lewis H. Morgan is a historical materialist treatise.

Himmelweit, S. and Mohun, S. (1977) “Domestic Labor and Capital.” Cambridge Journal of Economics vol 1:15–31.

Manser, Marilyn and Murray Brown (1980). "Marriage and Household Decision Making: a Bargaining Analysis." International Economic Review 21:31–44.

McElroy, Marjorie B. and M.J. Horney (1981). "Nash Bargained Household Decisions: Toward a Generalization of the Theory of Demand." International Economic Review 22:333–49.