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 2: Vanity economics: a survey and an extension

C. Simon Fan

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


Over the past half-century, the boundaries of economics have been enormously expanded. In fact, the phrase 'economics imperialism' was coined to highlight that modern economics analyses virtually all social science subjects such as crime, politics, discrimination, social norms and, in particular, family. Certain questions arise. What is the definition of economics? How does economics differ from other social sciences, say sociology, regarding research on family issues? Economics distinguishes itself from other social sciences in its fundamental assumption of individual rationality. While other social sciences do not exclude this assumption in their methods, it is the cornerstone assumption in economics. Indeed, for at least the past half-century, mathematical methods have often been used to derive theoretical results in economics. Rigorous mathematics clearly matches the assumption of individual rationality perfectly. At this point, one may ask why the discipline of economics is based more firmly on the assumption of individual rationality than other disciplines such as sociology. There are two main interrelated answers to this question. First, in at least the early stages of economics development, the research focused on issues that were not very sensitive to people's emotions, such as the market, earnings, trade and production. Thus ideology and 'political correctness' were largely not an issue in economics. This tradition continued when economists turned to study more sensitive issues such as marriage, divorce and children. Second, 'utility theory' was developed in economics, establishing a starting framework for analysing people's behaviour. I briefly outline utility theory as follows.

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

Elgaronline requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals. Please login through your library system or with your personal username and password on the homepage.

Non-subscribers can freely search the site, view abstracts/ extracts and download selected front matter and introductory chapters for personal use.

Your library may not have purchased all subject areas. If you are authenticated and think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.

Further information