The importance of family: a macroeconomic perspective

Plenty of economic phenomena cannot be explained in the absence of family structure. For example, the immense changes in women's labor force participation are strongly affected by family structure: married women work less than single, and mothers work less than childless women (Greenwood et al. 2017). A significant share of these differences is a result of the family-specific design of tax and social security systems (Borella et al. 2019). Family structure is also a natural framework for studying intergenerational mobility and parent-child correlations. More and more macroeconomics papers reconcile the importance of a family and explicitly model decisions within the household. In this paper, we propose a systematic overview of this stream of literature.

We are not the first ones to review family economics in the context of macroeconomics, e.g. Browning et al. (2014). Doepke and Tertilt (2016) provide an excellent summary of advances in family economics and its successes in explaining classic macroeconomics phenomena. We extend their study by focusing on family-dependent policy interventions, the joint aspect of taxation, and the impact of labor market structure on fertility. What is more, an outstanding guideline of family economics models by Greenwood et al. (2017) pointed out several remaining research questions – concerning childcare subsidies, fertility policies, taxation, and within-family insurance. We prove that many of them have already received a satisfactory empirical and theoretical answer.

The definition of family differs substantially across macroeconomics literature. However, we can systematize these definitions using two dimensions: the household structure and decision process. We can distinguish two types of households: the first consists of the parent(s) and child(ren), the second consists of husband and wife. The latter fits analyzing gender inequality, unequal tax treatment, or family-dependent components of social security. The parent(s) and child(ren) family structure is the most common and helps explaining human capital accumulation, inequality, and fertility decisions. Both setups are employed to study different drivers of women's labor force participation.

In terms of the decision-making process, we can distinguish unitary households and households based on game-theoretic bargaining models. The members of the unitary household maximize the so-called household utility function, which describes the joint interests of all household members under aggregated budget constraint. However, the formation, as well as the dissolution of a partnership, usually require decisions of the individuals involved. Thus, it always contains the possibility of conflict. Bargaining models better reflect this feature and describe household behavior as the cooperation of utility-maximizing individuals. Despite that, the unitary household is a typical framework, even in recent literature. Models with bargaining are mostly used to describe the formation and stability of marriage and recently to analyze fertility decisions.

In the following part of the paper, we review both macroeconomics and family economics literature in the context of labor force participation, fertility choice, human capital accumulation, inequality and taxes, and social security. Depending on the policy in question, the literature proposes models with significantly different structures and features, e.g., types of heterogeneity, choice set, applied utility functions, and model timing. All of them contribute to the mechanism of the model and its fit to the data (Borella et al. 2018). We discuss below different model setups, with particular caution to policies' welfare effect. In this way, we provide a method guideline useful for future research.

This chapter is a part of volume "Pensions today - economic, managerial, and social issues" edited by Filip Chybalski and Edyta Marcinkiewicz.