Feminist economics

From Academic Kids

Feminist economics broadly refers to a developing branch of economics that applies feminist insights and critiques to mainstream economics. Research under this heading is often interdisciplinary, critical, or heterodox, and discusses the relationship between feminism and economics on many levels: from applying mainstream economic methods to under-researched "women's" areas, to questioning how mainstream economics values the reproductive sector, to deeply philosophical critiques of economic epistemology and methodology.


Origins

Originally it largely stemmed from a set of observations by feminist ethicists, economists, political scientists and systems scientists, that women's traditional work (e.g. child-raising, caring for sick elders) and occupations (e.g. nursing, teaching) are systematically undervalued with respect to that of men. It is often considered part of Green economics since Greens list feminism as an explicit goal of their political measures, often seeking higher valuations for such work. It is also often considered part of welfare economics or labour economics, since it emphasizes child welfare, and the value of labour in itself, as opposed to production for a marketplace, the focus of classical economy.

Measures such as employment equity were implemented in developed nations in the 1970s to 1990s, but these were not entirely successful in removing wage gaps even in nations with strong equity traditions. Systemic study of the ways that women's work is undervalued, undertaken by Marilyn Waring and others in the 1980s and 1990s, began to justify different means of measurement of value - some of which were influential in the theory of social capital and individual capital, which emerged in the late 1990s and ultimately merged with ecological economics to become modern human development theory.

Jane Jacobs' thesis of the "Guardian Ethic" and its contrast to the "Trader Ethic" was also influential in explaining in ethical terms why a trading culture would systematically undervalue guardianship activity, including the child-protecting, nurturing, and healing tasks that were traditionally assigned to women. This led to the more general idea of systems as expressing either tolerances or preferences, and never being very good at both.

Critics of the theses of Waring, Jacobs, and other feminists who explore the role of women in the economy, argue that protective activities, e.g. military and police and government, are just as much male as female roles, more so in times of chaos, and that these preceding theories are sexist. A striking example is World War II, in which women worked in factories while men fought - a reversal of the roles according to Jacobs, but entirely to be expected according to nearly everyone else.

Relevant External Links

International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) (http://www.iaffe.org)

Useful Texts

Beyond economic man : feminist theory and economics, edited by Marianne A. Ferber and Julie A. Nelson. The University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Nelson, Julie. Feminism, Objectivity and Economics. Routledge, 1996.

Toward a feminist theory of economics, edited by Drusilla Barker and Edith Kuiper. Routledge, 2003.

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