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 16: Gender bias, gender gaps and population theory

C. Simon Fan


In many societies, parents exhibit a strong bias in favour of boys. This bias is particularly pronounced in traditional societies. Meanwhile, parental gender bias has also been shown to exist even in very liberal societies of developed countries. For example, Dahl and Moretti (2008) demonstrate that many parents in the USA favour boys over girls and provide the following evidence. First, a woman is much less likely to get married if her first child is a girl. Second, among the women who take ultrasound tests during pregnancy, the mothers who have sons are more likely to be married before the delivery. Third, the couples whose first-born children are girls are much more likely to divorce later on. How do we explain this observed parental gender bias? The analysis in Chapter 15 provides one answer to this question: boys are better able to help protect the property and honour of a family when the rule of law is not well established. For example, in rural China today, a significant proportion of households do not have sons due to the single-child policy. Members of such families are often bullied by neighbours, particularly when the fathers of the households become old. Another explanation is related to the problem of domestic violence and wife beating. For example, Broude (1994, p. 312) states: Wife beating has a long history. In ancient Babylonia a husband could beat his wife … The woman cannot complain and cannot always prevent beatings by behaving well, as her spouse may also abuse her for no apparent reason.

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