An Economic Exploration of Sex, Marriage and Family
Chapter 7: Sexual liberation
This section tries to discover the preconditions for widespread premarital sex, and arrives at three conclusions. First, children are no longer the property of their parents. Second, the cost of engaging in sexual activities solely for pleasure is sufficiently low. Third, economic development has reached a level where most people are no longer concerned about survival issues. I address each of these three points in detail. First, if parents make decisions about their children's marriages, they will tend to maximize their children's value in the marriage market. Female virginity is often an important determinant of this market value. Thus, to ensure that a girl's virginity is not sold (explicitly or implicitly) by her parents, particularly for a poor household, children cannot be considered the property of their parents by either law or social custom. As discussed in Chapter 4, children in ancient China were essentially the property of their parents, and parents usually tried to explore opportunities to seek pecuniary benefits in the marriage market for their children. In such a case, if a female virgin was 'sold' in the marriage market at a much higher bride price than a non-virgin, parents and particularly poor parents had a strong incentive to maintain their daughter's virginity, such as by restraining her activities outside the home. A comprehensive study of why children are or are not their parents' property in different circumstances is beyond the scope of this book. I provide only some simple discussions.
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