A familiar conceptual approach to caring in economics is to see it as behavior that enhances the utility of both care receiver and care giver and to model the satisfaction derived from enhancing the utility of another person within a preference-based, choice-oriented, and utility-maximizing concept of altruism. In a neoclassical framework, the common notion of altruism is modeled in terms of positively interdependent utilities: applied to the provision of caring, this would mean that the utility functions of the care giver and the care receiver are assumed to be analytically inseparable. Since the utility of the care receiver is assumed to figure as one argument in the utility function of the care giver, enhancing the care receiver’s utility by the performance of a caring service simultaneously amounts to enhancing the care giver’s utility as well. Consequently, the care giver is regarded as an altruist willing to reduce his/her own consumption in order to increase the consumption of the care receiver (Becker 1976: 284) as long as doing so increases the care giver’s own utility.1 Caring is understood within the economic framework of utility considerations as preference-based choice behavior aiming at utility maximization. The performance of caring activities is understood as resulting from circumstances marked by scarcity and choice and explained by “the combined assumptions of maximizing behavior, market equilibrium,2 and stable preferences” (Becker 1976: 5) characterizing the “economic approach.” Decisions about caring are reached by weighing the advantages and disadvantages and the benefits and costs of alternative actions with the respective weighting determined by the preferences of the individual: caring is the result of a preferential choice.
KeywordsUtility Function Child Care Preferential Choice Care Giver Caring Behavior
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