Family Economics

Course content

Family economics today is motivated by observing that the family, and how individuals engage with it, has fundamentally changed in recent decades: the separation of sex, marriage, and childbearing; fewer children and smaller households; converging work and education patterns for men and women; class divergence in partnering and parenting strategies; and the replacement of what had been family functions and home production by government programs and market transactions.

Family economics applies standard economic concepts to decision making by individuals and families. Concepts such as production, division of labor, and cooperation are used to understand marriage (Why? Who?), how to organize household production, investments in specific human capital, the decision to have children, investments in these children, labor market outcomes as a result of family organization, and divorce. Some of the classical topics in family economics revolve around the matching in the marriage market, the quantity-quality-tradeoff in the number of children, or the division of labor by gender. Topics that generated many recent empirical advances are the family gap (cost of motherhood), intergenerational mobility in health, and effects of family structure.

The focus of the current course is on both theoretical and empirical aspects of family economics. Both types of studies are necessary building blocks to analyzing the effect of family policies – past and present. The course will provide students with the family economists’ toolkit to set trends and key facts into context, and critically evaluate policies that are related to any aspect of family economics.

We therefore study models of marriage, divorce and fertility as a basis for understanding changes in family structure over time and across countries.

We furthermore study empirical research papers that examine these issues and we discuss the research methods applied in these studies.

The empirical findings, economic models, and basic empirical trends will all enter an evaluation of family policy issues such as parental leave and divorce laws.

The course lets students acquire an economic toolbox to evaluate family policy issues methodically.


Bacheloruddannelsen i økonomi - recommended elective from the 3.year

MSc programme in Economics – elective course


Learning outcome

After completion of the course, students should be able to:


  • Apply theories to address questions in family economics by developing knowledge of economics of the family.
  • Understand economic models in this context.
  • Recall frameworks and assumptions, as well as economic predictions
  • Explain central theoretical concepts.
  • Critically read selected articles in economic journals and extract the appropriate conclusions.



  • Use recent empirical data to evaluate current issues and examine whether the presented empirical evidence convincingly identifies causal relationships.
  • Employ evidence in relevant contexts and recall it to addressed topics.
  • Reflect on implications of theoretical approaches in family economics for empirical analyses
  • Discuss economic principles and apply previously learned material when reading empirical papers.
  • Select the theories or frameworks, and pieces of empirical evidence, which are relevant for the policy question or debate.
  • Organize evidence to form an argument around a given issue.
  • Find and select additional empirical evidence from relevant sources (empirical research in the family economics literature as well as aggregate trends and data) to contribute to a discussion of a family economics topic.
  • Synthesize empirical evidence from multiple sources, research articles and aggregate data.
  • Evaluate the real-life relevance of possible economic explanations or scenarios, to give an assessment of which explanation or hypothetical outcome is more or less likely.
  • Navigate in the sometimes contradicting models or papers that have been studied and present the trade-offs.
  • Provide a measured evaluation of a specific policy issue.
  • Present concisely in written and oral form at different levels of detail.



  • Present arguments orally and in written form, which are based on their reading of theory as well as state-of-the-art empirical findings.
  • Construct concise cases where they show their well-rounded appraisal of a situation that connects economic theory to the real world.
  • Evaluate policy proposals critically and scientifically, and present arguments in favor or against them.
  • Understand and extract information from scientific papers in the field of family economics, quickly identify their contributions and limitations.
  • Apply economic thinking to questions related to family economics
  • Understand theoretical approaches and empirical strategies of economists in the field of family economics
  • Apply an economic toolbox to evaluate family policy issues methodically


Teaching in this course will be through lectures, where the lecture time consists of not only frontal teaching, but also student presentations and discussions between students and the instructors.

The lectures will cover both theoretical aspects of family economics and empirical applications. The empirical applications will also be discussed in a class-like structure, with student preparation and student presentations.

During the semester, each student will have to prepare two mandatory presentations. One consists of a very brief overview of facts, trends and potentially policy issues related to the topic of the class. This exercise should help you relate the theoretical and empirical papers covered in class to “real-world” trends and policies. The second presentation will be a 15-minute overview of one scientific journal article, from a list provided by the instructors in the first lecture. This exercise should help you familiarize yourself with one particular way of empirically approaching a topic in family economics.

Main books for this class:

Becker, Gary (1994): A Treatise on the Family. ISBN: 9780674906990

Handbook of Population and Family Economics, Volume 1, Part A. ISBN: 978-0-444-82646-6 (available online through library subscription)

Additional mandatory reading:

  • Selected chapters from Browning, Martin, Pierre-Andre Chiappori, Yoram Weiss (2011): The Economics of the Family.

  • lLcture notes (slides) are considered study material and are part of the syllabus

  • Selected journal articles (a complete list of mandatory reading will be posted at the beginning of the course):

    • Stevenson, B., & Wolfers, J. (2007). Marriage and divorce: Changes and their driving forces. Journal of Economic Perspectives, (2), 27-52.

    • Sandra E. Black, Paul J. Devereux, Kjell G. Salvanes (2005). The More the Merrier? The Effect of Family Size and Birth Order on Children's Education. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 120 (2): 669-700.

    • Goldin, C., Katz, L. (2002): The Power Of The Pill: Contraceptives And Women's Career And Marriage Decisions, Journal of Political Economy 10(4):730-770.

    • Ruhm, C. J. (2000). Parental leave and child health. Journal of Health Economics 19 (6), 931-60.

    • Black, Sandra, Devereux, Paul and Salvanes, Kjell (2007): From the Cradle to the Labor Market? The Effect of Birth Weight on Adult Outcomes. The Quarterly Journal of Economics: 409/439

    • Halla, Martin (2013). The Effect of Joint Custody on Family Outcomes, Journal of the European Economic Association, 11, issue 2, p. 278-315


Students are expected to be familiar with undergraduate microeconomics and econometrics. The appropriate courses at the University of Copenhagen are Micro II and Econometrics I.

2 hours lectures 1 to 2 times a week from week 36 to 50 (except week 42).

The overall schema for the BA 3rd year can be seen at https:/​/​​polit_ba/​undervisning/​Lektionsplan-E17/​skemaer/​Sider/​default.aspx

or the Master at https:/​/​​economics_ma/​courses/​CourseCatalogue-E17/​Courseschema/​Pages/​default.aspx

Timetable and venue:
To see the time and location of lectures and exercise classes please press the link under "Se skema" (See schedule) at the right side of this page. E means Autumn.

You can find the similar information partly in English at
-Select Department: “2200-Økonomisk Institut” (and wait for respond)
-Select Module:: “2200-E17; [Name of course]””
-Select Report Type: “List – Weekdays”
-Select Period: “Efterår/Autumn – Weeks 31-5”
Press: “ View Timetable”

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment, 48 hours
- an individual take-home exam. The exam assignment is in English and must be answered in English.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
if chosen by the Head of Studies.
Criteria for exam assessment

Students are assessed on the extent to which they master the learning outcome for the course.

To receive the top grade, the student must be able to demonstrate in an excellent manner that he or she has acquired and can make use of the knowledge, skills and competencies listed in the learning outcomes.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 42
  • Preparation
  • 161
  • Exam
  • 3
  • English
  • 206