Economics of the Family

Exploring economic decisions and changing patterns in family life

The family is the first and foremost influence on an individual’s success. Family choices about how much to invest in a child’s well-being and education are critical to building a strong, skilled workforce that drives a healthy economy.

The Becker Friedman Institute has created an initiative on economics of the family that will advance our understanding of patterns and consequences of household microeconomic decisions for the broader macroeconomy.

Personal decisions about when or whether to marry or divorce, how many children to have, how to divide time between work and home, and when to retire shape our current and future labor force—the foundation for economic growth and stability.

University of Chicago economists have led the field in applying the tools of economic analysis to measure the impact of household choices. Many crucial questions remain, and new issues arise as we face population shifts, stagnant educational attainment, persistent underemployment, and serious fiscal challenges.

  • How do we interpret changing trends in household and family composition and measure their impact on the economy?
  • How do families choose to invest in the well-being and education of children and what are the payoffs?
  • Why are birth rates so low in many countries, especially Europe and Asia?
  • What factors influence individuals’ choices between work in the marketplace and non-market home production, or to retire or continue to work? What models help us understand how tax policies influence all these decisions, and how can we design optimal tax systems?

This initiative will explore such issues.


Current Work

The initiative supports and advances important work on such questions. Conferences in 2011 and 2012 brought together leaders in related fields to share new work on family and labor trends in China and the economics of home production and non-market work. More recently, the institute sponsored a weekly research workshop in famility economics. 

Top scholars visit the institute to share and advance their work in this field. Among them are Becker Friedman Distinguished Fellows Pierre-André Chiappori of Columbia University and Richard Blundell of University College London.

Many other leaders in the field are taking part in the Family Inequality Network, part of the Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group, a complementary research initiative at the Institute.


Future Aims

We seek resources to continue to attract top scholars in this field. A primary goal is to attract and prepare young economists to work in this area, mentoring them through interactions with accomplished researchers.

With additional support, the initiative will fund students and junior faculty, providing a cadre of economists trained to address the complex family dynamics that shape society and our economy.