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 9: Extramarital affairs

C. Simon Fan


Wikipedia describes the plot of Indecent Proposal, a 1993 Hollywood film starring Robert Redford, Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson, as follows: High school sweethearts David (Woody Harrelson) and Diana Murphy (Demi Moore) are a married couple who travel to Las Vegas, hoping they can win enough money to finance David's fantasy real estate project. They place their money on red in roulette and lose. After gambling away all of their savings, they encounter billionaire John Gage (Robert Redford). Gage is attracted to Diana and offers David one million dollars to spend a night with her. After a difficult night, David and Diana decide to accept the offer, and a contract is signed the next day … Although he had hoped to forget the whole incident, David grows increasingly insecure about his relationship with Diana … Because of this tension on their relationship, David and Diana separate … This story illustrates that spousal fidelity is central to the quality of a marriage and hence marital stability. In Indecent Proposal, David and Diana receive an enormous amount of money in exchange for Diana spending one night with another man. From the perspective of 'pure' economics, this sounds like a 'dream deal': the revenue is astronomical and the cost is virtually zero. However, the deal courts disaster for David and Diana, who deeply regret their participation. Why is extramarital sex so harmful to a marriage? This question can be answered in two ways. First, it can be understood from an evolutionary perspective. If a female has multiple sexual partners, a lack of effective contraception makes knowing the father of her offspring difficult.

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