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Good post.

Outside of economics departments, and looking at other social science departments only, would it be correct to say that Becker (and economics imperialism) has had much more influence in the US than in Canada? This is what I hear anecdotally, but my sample is very small.

Nice post, Aloysious; thanks. I like your comment about the rejection of some of Becker's work/results being scientific progress. It's difficult to know how to treat his work in the econ of the family class: there wouldn't be such a class if not for him, but some of his basic results...!

And interesting question, Nick - I'd never heard that before, but given segregation and US history, Becker's work on discrimination might have had a greater impact on policy than any of his work in Canada.


I sometimes disagree with him as a son disagrees with his father. But I also recognize what he has done for me intellectually. I also value his approval but when he does not give it, I write it off as him defending his legacy. I may not be as smart but my ego is as large. Haha.

Nick: I also have anecdotes but also no fact.

"Interestingly, motivated by the work of psychologists, economists have also begun to reject the purely rational calculus model of Becker as too narrow. Rather, these behavioral economics researchers argue that individuals have bounded rationality and are subject to systematic biases in their behavior."
I don't think that's an accurate description. I've heard others eulogize him as being one of the first "behavioral economists"!

I wouldn't be too quick to attribute to Becker the family and fertility policies of the developed countries, which go back at least to the thirties in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia. See here: http://www.oecdobserver.org/news/archivestory.php/aid/563/Can_governments_influence_population_growth_.html

"Alva and Gunnar Myrdal, argued in their 1934 book, Crisis in the Population Question, that Sweden must raise its birth rate; at the time the rate was below two children per woman, down from four at the turn of the century. The way to reverse this trend, they said, was by social reform that would support the family. Their proposals placed the responsibility for population targets in the hands of government and included maternal and child healthcare, free delivery, maternity and housing benefits, and general child allowances. Changes in social and welfare systems and marked reforms in the spheres of sexuality and reproduction saw the birth rate for most of the past half-century fluctuate at around two children per woman. It peaked at around 2.5 in the mid-1940s, when the general child allowance was introduced following the end of the Second World War, but never recovered its turn-of-the- century level."

Absent China's One Child Policy which is draconian, its very difficult to affect national fertility rates via subsidies, maternity leaves, etc.. Many rich countries want to increase fertility but are not succeeding.

Due to substantial empirical work, I think its fair to say that Becker's quantity and quality model and its extensions cannot explain much of the fertility differences across women. I think some form of peer effects is needed. E.g. Fogli and Veldkemp 2011. The quantity and quality model is important because it gives us a behavioural model to estimate, and we are able to conclude that the factors which Becker and perhaps most economists would think of as a first pass are not enough to explain fertility behavior. So now others, such as Fogli and Veldkemp, add other hypotheses.

A more extreme modification will be to say that the quantity and quality model is basically wrong. I.e. that is not how adults think about children. One such model is that there are two factors affecting the demand for children. One factor, which is often applied historically and to developing countries, is that children are factors of production and or old age insurance for parents. Such a factor can generate high fertility. The second factor is that adults only want one child for own consumption, and have a second so that the first will not be lonely or for diversification. This second factor is not a quantity and quality rationale and is also against Darwinism. So there are reasons to be sceptical. In any case, for many historical and developing societies, the first factor dominated and so economic factors affected the demand for children. But as societies became richer and women's wages rose, the first factor became less important. And now the second factor is visible and operative. I have not decided whether I am crazy enough to work this out formally.

The most important issue is to find which gov't policies have been most successful in rich countries for increasing fertility among the above-average 50% richer folk. The paradox is that society wants more kids from the rich, but usually it's the poor who actually have more kids. Yet more kids from poor folks in a rich society are generally better than fewer kids.

This general conclusion is negatively modified when there racial / ethnic minorities who are poorer than average (NOT Asian-Americans), who need more social safety net public assistance, and who have more kids.

So -- what gov't policies work best, so far?

Rich men have more children but, in modern societies, they mate with educated women who have less ( and educate them more).
Some poor people have more children, but the number who have them is usually smaller as they are less marrieageable. poor men have no income or end up in prison (birth control american-style).
That's the old trope about the (any unfavorite category)swamping the ( whatever is deemed "superior" by the "superior".)

Aloysius, the "children as factors of production or old age insurance" doesn't contradict the quantity/quality, does it? In earlier stages of development, and/or low income levels, quality amounts to level of nutrition, not formal education. If nutrition is a binding constraint, as income levels rise we might see both quantity and quality increasing, at least over some range. Your second "factor" is akin to the "heir and a spare" argument. On the other hand, if loneliness is a factor in determining the quality of the desired single child...

A problem with the quantity and quality model is that many women now have zero kids, including educated and wealthy women. Many of them are also unmarried. The above is the case now in several Asian societies such as Japan, HK, Singapore. Economists want to think of child services, some combination of quantity and quality, as generating positive utility. So why are so many rich women having no kids.

One interpretation is that this state is transitory. I.e. women in these societies have gotten educated and they dont want a traditional marriage. On the other hand, educated men want a traditional marriage. Many men marry down (and so get their traditional marriage) and many educated women do not marry because they cannot bring themselves to marrying down. This is related to work by recent work by Bertrand and Pan. The question is whether this is transitory. After one generation of no offspring, the next generation may adjust. This interpretation is a cultural norm story which is outside the quantity quality model.

It cannot be underemphasized how difficult it must have been in the beginning, when many economists indeed mocked Becker's choice of subjects to study using economics. For example, Princeton's Alan Blinder wrote a parody of Becker's work published in Chicago's own Journal of Political Economy (Becker must have been a good sport!):

Of course, today Becker is seen as probably the leading economist of the second half of the 20th century, and economists would say, the leading *social scientist* of that 50-year period.

Heckman's tribute to Becker should not be missed:

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