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A Kenyan woman sells fish outside.
Women in the informal labor market make up a major part of the global economy.
Feminist economists seek to include the ramifications of this work in their data, analysis, and policy recommendations.
Photo by Martha Chen.
Feminist economics broadly refers to a developing branch of economics that applies feminist lenses to economics. Research under this heading is often interdisciplinary or heterodox. It encompasses debates about the relationship between feminism and economics on many levels: from applying mainstream economic methods to what feminist economists claim are under-researched "women's" areas, to questioning how mainstream economics values the reproductive sector, to examinations of economic epistemology and methodology.

One prominent claim that feminist economists make is that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) does not adequately measure unpaid labor predominantly performed by women, such as housework, childcare, and eldercare. Since a large part of women's work is rendered invisible, they argue that policies meant to boost the GDP can, in many instances, actually worsen the impoverishment of women, even if the intention is to increase prosperity. For example, opening up a state-owned forest in the Himalayas to commercial logging may increase India's GDP, but women who collect fuel from the forest to cook with may face substantially more hardships.

Origins

While attention to women’s economic role and economic differences by gender started in the 1960s and there were feminist critiques of received economic theories in the 1970s and 1980s, feminist economics took off in earnest with the founding of the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) in 1990 and the journal Feminist Economics in 1994. As in other disciplines, the initial emphasis of feminist economists was to critique the established theory, methodology, and policy approaches. The critique began in microeconomics of the household and labour markets and spread to macroeconomics and international trade, leaving no field in economics untouched. Feminist economists pushed for and produced gender aware theory and analysis, broadened the focus on economics and sought pluralism of methodology and research methods.

Feminist economics is gradually becoming a widely recognized and reputed area of inquiry . In 1997, IAFFE gained Non-Governmental Organization status in the United Nations. That same year, the journal Feminist Economics was awarded the Council of Editors and Learned Journals (CELJ) Award as Best New Journal. The organization boasts approximately 600 members in 43 countries. Although its founding members were mostly based in the US, a majority of IAFFE's current members are based outside of the US. The 2005 ISI Social Science Citation Index ranked the journal Feminist Economics 20th out of 175 among economics journals and 2nd out of 27 among Women's Studies journals.

Theory and methodology

Feminist economists have also challenged a perceived rhetorical approach of mainstream economics. They have made critiques of many basic assumptions of mainstream economics, including the Homo economicus model. They have been instrumental in creating alternative models, such as the Capability Approach and incorporating gender into the analysis of economic data. Feminist economic methodology can be broken down into the following five categories:

Domestic systems

Feminist economists argue that traditional analysis of economic systems often fails to take into account the value of the unpaid work being performed by men and women in a domestic setting. Feminist economists have argued that unpaid work is just as valuable as paid work and that measures of economic success should take unpaid work into account when evaluating economic systems. In addition, feminist economists have also drawn attention to issues of power and inequality within families and households.

Economic success

Many feminist economists argue that economic success cannot only be measured in terms of goods, but must also be measured by human well-being. To evaluate economic well-being, one cannot only look at distribution of wealth or income, but one must also look at individual entitlements and needs. Amartya Sen, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, and other feminist economists have been involved in the development of alternatives to GDP, such as the Human Development Index. An important issue is education: with an increase in levels of education will come an increase in economic success.

Human agency

Human agency is an approach that looks not only at the individual but also the system that constrains an individual's options, or the systems and process behind them. Often many systems have been established over a long period of time and are disproportionately hard for various groups of people to access or take advantage of. A human agency methodology attempts to look at where the power in a system lies and who has unequal access to it. In addition, in contrast to "rational actor" models of economics, feminists have drawn attention to the problems of those who lack agency, such as children, the sick, and the frail elderly, and the way in which responsibilities for their care can serve to compromise the agency of their caregivers.

Ethical judgments

This is a methodology that looks at systems not from the point of view of neutral observer, but from a specific moral position and viewpoint. Notably, the intention is not to create a more "subjective" methodology, but to counter-weight perceived biases in existing methodologies: By recognizing that all views of the world arise from viewpoints, it sheds light on what feminist economists claim are masculine biases. According to feminist economists, too many theories, while claiming to present universal principles, actually present a masculine viewpoint in the guise of a "view from nowhere."

Gender, race, class

Feminist economics attempts to not only examine women’s issues in economics, but to also examine the issues of as many other different groups of people as possible. No classification of people can ever capture every element at work,but by explicitly considering gender, race, class, and caste this can be improved upon.

Major areas of inquiry

Development

Feminist economists argue that economic development in the Global South depends in large part on improved reproductive rights; gender equitable laws on ownership and inheritance; and policies that are sensitive to the number of women in the informal economy.

A December 11, 2006 BBC article summarizes a UNICEF report that draws from feminist economic work on development, "The report points to a greater lack of opportunities for girls and women in education and employment that contributes to disempowerment and poverty. Where men control the household, less money is spent on health care and food for the family, resulting in poorer health for the children." Mainstream economists usually assume the family is a single, altruistic unit and that the inputs (i.e. money) are distributed equally. Bina Agarwal and other feminist economists have critiqued the mainstream model and contributed to a better understanding of intrahousehold bargaining power.

Employment equity

Systemic study of the ways women's work is measured or not measured at all, undertaken by Marilyn Waring and others in the 1980s and 1990s, began to justify different means of determining value - some of which were influential in the theory of social capital and individual capital, which emerged in the late 1990s and, along with ecological economics, influenced modern human development theory.

There has also been research conducted regarding employment equity within the profession of economics itself. Jonung and Stahlberg point out that "despite an increasing number of women entering the economics profession during recent decades, it is still dominated by men. Women constitute about a third of the PhD graduates in several countries, but their share of the economics full professors is still between 5 and 9 percent. Compared to other academic fields, economics has the greatest gender discrepancy in career attainment." Such studies, however, present an "alternative explanation, called preference theory, based on women’s greater propensity to prefer work-life balance, in contrast to men’s greater propensity to prefer work-centred lifestyles. Intellectual ability alone does not predict success in a career. Relevant life goals and motivation matter greatly." Also of relevance is the viewpoint that women, due to inherent characteristics, have different occupational preferences than men. Women, as a group, prefer occupations involving people, whereas men are typically drawn to more investigative or enterprising occupations that tend to be more impersonal. As a result, fewer women are inclined to pursue a career in economics. Likewise, other research through the employment of "brain scans, mental ability tests, personality tests, and DNA shows that the representation of women in the economics profession may be largely driven by persistent differences between the sexes in the interests and abilities that make good economists." If this is true, "the easiest way to raise the number of women in economics may be to change economics itself so that it focuses on the actually-existing strengths of women in areas such as verbal fluidity, conscientiousness, and computation." Jonung and Stahlberg still contend that the gender distribution within the economics profession is not due primarily to inherent differences between the sexes. They believe that an increased presence of women in economics would benefit the field by providing new perspectives, whether that be innovating in different areas, creating new tools, or using different language and metaphors. If economics has a gender as some suggest, Jonung and Stahlberg suggest that gender roles change over time. Indeed, a social science like economics should prosper from a variety of cognitive skills and life experiences. The challenge is enabling and encouraging women to in fact study economics and eventually enter the research environment of the field.

Antecedents

Early on, feminist ethicists, economists, political scientists and systems scientists argued 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. For example, Jane Jacobs' thesis of the "Guardian Ethic" and its contrast to the "Trader Ethic" sought to explain what feminist economics claim is the systematic undervalueing of guardianship activity, including the child-protecting, nurturing, and healing tasks that were traditionally assigned to women. 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.

Relation to other disciplines

Green economics incorporates ideas from feminist economics and Greens list feminism as an explicit goal of their political measures, often seeking higher valuations for such work. Feminist economics is also often linked with 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.

See also



External links



Useful texts

  • Agarwal, Bina. A Field of One's Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia. Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • Barker, Drucilla K. and Susan F. Feiner. Liberating Economics: Feminist Perspectives on Families, Work, and Globalization. University of Michigan Press, 2004.
  • Barker, Drucilla and Edith Kuiper. Toward a feminist philosophy of economics. Routledge, 2003.
  • Ferber, Marianne A. and Julie Nelson (eds.).Beyond economic man: feminist theory and economics. The University of Chicago Press, 1993.
  • Ferber, Marianne A. and Julie A. Nelson (eds.). Feminist Economics Today: Beyond Economic Man. The University of Chicago Press, 2003.
  • Nelson, Julie. Feminism, Objectivity and Economics. Routledge, 1996.
  • Peterson, Janice and Margaret Lewis (eds.) The Elgar Companion to Feminist Economics.Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd., 1999.
  • Power, Marilyn. "Social Provisioning as a Starting Point for Feminist Economics" Feminist Economics. Volume 10, Number 3. Routledge, November 2004
  • Sen, Amartya. Development as Freedom. Anchor Books, 1999.


Graduate programs offering study in feminist economics

A small, but growing number of graduate programs around the world offer courses and concentrations in feminist economics. (Unless otherwise noted below, these offerings are in departments of economics.)



References




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