Table of Contents

Vanity Economics

Vanity Economics

An Economic Exploration of Sex, Marriage and Family

C. Simon Fan

This book presents an accessible and sometimes controversial economic exploration of numerous issues surrounding sex, marriage and family. It analyzes the role of ‘vanity’, defined as social status and self-esteem, in social and economic behaviors.

Chapter 1: Introduction

C. Simon Fan

Subjects: economics and finance, behavioural and experimental economics, institutional economics

Extract

This book has two main interrelated goals. First, it aims to better understand numerous issues related to marriage, sex and family by analysing them from the perspective of economics. Second, it explores further the role of vanity in social and economic behaviour, thereby expanding the frontier of economics and contributing to other social sciences. The book introduces a large number of original ideas, presented in this chapter as a synopsis. In his classic work, Adam Smith (1759) writes: 'For to what purpose is all the toil and bustle of this world? … To be observed, to be attended to, to be taken notice of… It is the vanity, not the ease, or the pleasure, which interests us'. Alcott (2004, p. 767) provides a summary of studies by Smith (1759), Veblen (1899) and others in the classical economics literature, and notes that the meaning of 'vanity' is best described as follows: 'Vanity is "the mere desire of superiority over others' by whatever criteria".' My conception largely follows that definition of 'vanity'. Simply put, 'vanity' means social status plus self-esteem. A dictionary may give other meanings, and our definition may be somewhat different from any of those. Thus our definition, which is in line with classical economists, may be at some risk of abusing the English word, but I stick to this word for its simplicity and for being in line with the writings of classical economists. This book applies Veblen's idea to the study of gender and family issues.