May 2019

IZA DP No. 12373: Evolution of Individual Preferences and Persistence of Family Rules

Alessandro Cigno, Alessandro Gioffré, Annalisa Luporini

published in: Review of Economics of the Household, 2021, 19, 935-958

How does the distribution of individual preferences evolve as a result of marriage between individuals with different preferences? Could a family rule be self-enforcing given individual preferences, and remain such for several generations despite preference evolution? We show that it is in a couple's common interest to obey a rule requiring them to give specified amounts of attention to their elderly parents if the couple's preferences satisfy a certain condition, and the same condition is rationally expected to hold also where their children and respective spouses are concerned. Given uncertainty about who their children will marry, a couple's expectations will reflect the probability distribution of preferences in the next generation. We show that, in any given generation, some couples may obey the rule in question and some may not. It is also possible that a couple will obey the rule, but their descendants will not for a number of generations, and then obey it again. The policy implications are briefly discussed.