Discussion paper

DP16263 The Family as a Social Institution

This handbook chapter focuses on important interactions between the family and culture. We discuss the wide range of global variation in family institutions, variation which is in part sustained by cultural differences, and important recent changes in family structures. The chapter discusses why different family institutions arise, when they persist, and what forces may lead them to change. Furthermore, it examines changes in key family outcomes, such as the rise of female labor force participation, the decline in marriage, and the increase in divorce. These changes have been accompanied by and interact with cultural change. Finally, we show how cultural institutions related to the family, such as son preference, co-residence traditions, polygyny, and marriage payments, affect decision-making within the family and interact with policy. We conclude that studying the family in a vacuum, without accounting for the role of culture, may lead to misleading conclusions regarding the effects of policies, macroeconomic shocks, or technological change.


Bau, N and R Fernández (2021), ‘DP16263 The Family as a Social Institution ‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 16263. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp16263