Vanity Economics
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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.
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Chapter 5: Vanity in romance and marriage

C. Simon Fan


I visited London in the summer of 1997. At the entrance to a Tube station, I saw a poster enticing men to join a fitness club. The advertisement promoted short-term exercise training to reduce weight and build muscle. Although it targeted men, most of the poster space featured a picture of a beautiful woman in a sexy dress. A line of large text, the poster's only other content, made the following declaration: 'If you join the club, you will get a body like this!' This advertisement illustrates two points highlighted in this book. First, as discussed in Chapter 4, assortative mating is a rule in the selection of marital partners. Second, physical appearance is of paramount importance in marriage markets. Indeed, among the numerous factors that matter to one's 'endowments' in the modern marriage market, the single most important factor determining one's overall attractiveness is physical appearance. (This is in sharp contrast with some traditional societies. Recall that, in traditional China, marriage was blind in the sense that the groom was allowed to see the bride's face for the first time only after the wedding.) Appearance is particularly crucial for women. For example, Stannard (1971, p. 124) states: The ideal beauties teach women that their looks are a commodity to be bartered in exchange for a man, not only for food, clothing, and shelter, but for love. Women learn early that if you are unlovely, you are unloved. The homely girl prepares to be an old maid, because beauty is what makes a man fall in love …

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