The institution of marriage

Dirk Bethmann, Michael Kvasnicka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


The institution of marriageis both old and ubiquitous. Yet, little work has been done by economists on why this social institution exists and why throughout history it has been intimately linked to fertility. We explain the institution of marriage as a societal consensus on the need to curb cuckoldry for the purpose of paternity certainty and biparental investment in offspring. By raising the costs of mating to individuals, marriage reduces cheating in society, a source of mating market failure, and makes paternity more certain. Men, in consequence, invest more in their putative offspring, a fact that also benefits mothers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1005-1032
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Population Economics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Jul
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
An earlier version of this paper circulated under the title “Paternal Uncertainty and the Economics of Mating, Marriage, and Parental Investment in Children” (SFB 649 Discussion Paper 46, Humboldt University of Berlin, 2005). Our work has benefited from useful comments by Michael C. Burda, Andrew McClelland, Irwin Collier, Donald Cox, Kurt Helmes, Jong-Wha Lee, Thomas Siedler, and Harald Uhlig. We are also grateful to two anonymous referees for their constructive comments. Stephanie Andrews, Burcu Erdogan, Katja Hanewald, and Redzo Mujcic have provided valuable research assistance. All remaining errors are our own. Financial support by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, the Brain Korea 21 Program, and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft through the SFB 649 “Economic Risk” is gratefully acknowledged.


  • Institution of marriage
  • Parental investment
  • Paternity uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Economics and Econometrics


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