cover of book

Social Economics: Market Behavior in a Social Environment
by Gary S. Becker and Kevin M. Murphy
Harvard University Press, 2000
Cloth: 978-0-674-00337-8 | Paper: 978-0-674-01121-2 | eISBN: 978-0-674-02064-1
Library of Congress Classification HM548.B43 2000
Dewey Decimal Classification 306.3

Economists assume that people make choices based on their preferences and their budget constraints. The preferences and values of others play no role in the standard economic model. This feature has been sharply criticized by other social scientists, who believe that the choices people make are also conditioned by social and cultural forces. Economists, meanwhile, are not satisfied with standard sociological and anthropological concepts and explanations because they are not embedded in a testable, analytic framework.

In this book, Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy provide such a framework by including the social environment along with standard goods and services in their utility functions. These extended utility functions provide a way of analyzing how changes in the social environment affect people's choices and behaviors. More important, they also provide a way of analyzing how the social environment itself is determined by the interactions of individuals.

Using this approach, the authors are able to explain many puzzling phenomena, including patterns of drug use, how love affects marriage patterns, neighborhood segregation, the prices of fine art and other collectibles, the social side of trademarks, the rise and fall of fads and fashions, and the distribution of income and status.

Table of Contents:


Part I The Effect of Social Capital on Market Behavior
1. The Importance of Social Interactions
2. Social Forces, Preferences, and Complementarity
3. Are Choices "Rational" When Social Capital Is Important?

Part II The Formation of Social Capital
4. Sorting by Marriage
5. Segregation and Integration in Neighborhoods
6. The Social Market for the Great Masters and Other Collectibles
with William Landes
7. Social Markets and the Escalation of Quality: The World of Veblen Revisited
with Edward Glaeser
8. Status and Inequality
with Iván Werning

Part III Fads, Fashions, and Norms
9. Fads and Fashion
10. The Formation of Norms and Values

Author Index
Subject Index

Reviews of this book:
[Becker and Murphy] are pioneers in the quest to extend the boundaries of rational choice theory in economics...They depict human beings not as isolated individuals but as members of society, shaped by social and cultural forces...This book marks another step in bringing economic theory closer to social reality.
--David Throsby, Times Literary Supplement

Reviews of this book:
This fascinating short book seeks to advance a 'social economics' field that would tackle such interpersonal issues head-on. It does so by addressing a diverse set of issues that includes social capital, habits and social interactions, sorting and marriage markets, segregation and integration of neighborhoods, escalation in product quality, status and inequality, and the modeling of fashions, norms, and values.
--Stephen R. G. Jones, Journal of Economic Literature

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