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Social emulation, the evolution of gender norms, and intergenerational transfers: Three essays on the economics of social interactions

Seung-Yun Oh, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In this dissertation, I develop theoretical models and an empirical study of the role of social interactions, the evolution of social norms, and their impact on individual behavior. Although my models are consistent with individual utility maximization, they generally emphasize social factors that channel individual decisions and/or shape individuals' preferences. I apply this approach to three different issues: labor supply, fertility decisions, and intergenerational transfers, generating predictions that are more consistent with observed empirical patterns of behavior than standard neoclassical approaches that assume independent preferences, perfect information, and efficient markets. In the first essay, I explain the long-run evolution of working hours during the 20th century in developed countries: the substantial decline for the first three quarters of the 20th century and the deceleration or even reversal of the fall in working hours in the last quarter. I develop a model of the determination of working hours and how this process is affected by both the conflict between employers and employees and the employees' desire to emulate the consumption standards of the rich reference group. The model also explores the effects of direct and indirect policies to limit hours advocated by political representations of workers such as trade unions or leftist parties. In the second essay, I study the coevolution of gender norms and fertility regimes. Since the 1990s, a new pattern of positive correlation between fertility rates and female labor force participation emerged in developed countries. This recent trend seems inconsistent with conventional economic approaches that explain fertility decline as a result of the increasing opportunity costs of childrearing, predicting a negative correlation between fertility and women's labor force participation. To address this puzzle, I develop a model of the evolution of gender norms and fertility in various economic environments influenced by the level of women's wages. Randomly matched spouses make choices related to fertility—labor supply and the division of household labor—based on their preferences shaped by gender norms. In the model, norm updating is influenced by both within-family payoffs and conformism payoffs from social interactions among the same sex. The model shows how changes in economic environments and the degree of conformism toward norms can alter fertility outcomes. The results suggest that the asymmetric evolution of gender norms between men and women could contribute to very low fertility, explaining the positive correlation between fertility and women's labor force participation. Finally, I estimate the effect of exogenously introduced public pensions for the elderly on the amount of private transfers they receive. There has been a long debate whether public transfers crowd out private transfers. Previous empirical studies on this issue suffer from the endogeneity of income that contaminates estimates. I use an exogenously introduced public transfer, the Basic Old Age Pension in Korea, to test the crowding out hypothesis. A considerable proportion of the elderly population, especially women living without a spouse, do not experience the crowding out effect and moreover, among those who do, the size of the effect is relatively small. The results support the redistribution effect of the Basic Old Age Pension targeting the poor elderly in Korea.

Subject Area

Economics|Economic theory|Demography

Recommended Citation

Oh, Seung-Yun, "Social emulation, the evolution of gender norms, and intergenerational transfers: Three essays on the economics of social interactions" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3589118.