Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Feminist economics

Feminist economics

Ask a question about 'Feminist economics'
Start a new discussion about 'Feminist economics'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
Feminist economics broadly refers to a developing branch of economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

 that applies feminist
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women's rights...

 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
Mainstream economics
Mainstream economics is a loose term used to refer to widely-accepted economics as taught in prominent universities and in contrast to heterodox 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
Gross domestic product
Gross domestic product refers to the market value of all final goods and services produced within a country in a given period. GDP per capita is often considered an indicator of a country's standard of living....

 (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 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.


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
Feminist Economics (journal)
Feminist Economics is a peer-reviewed academic journal published by Routledge and the International Association for Feminist Economics in the field of 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
Microeconomics is a branch of economics that studies the behavior of how the individual modern household and firms make decisions to allocate limited resources. Typically, it applies to markets where goods or services are being bought and sold...

 of the household and labour markets and spread to macroeconomics
Macroeconomics is a branch of economics dealing with the performance, structure, behavior, and decision-making of the whole economy. This includes a national, regional, or global economy...

 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
Non-governmental organization
A non-governmental organization is a legally constituted organization created by natural or legal persons that operates independently from any government. The term originated from the United Nations , and is normally used to refer to organizations that do not form part of the government and are...

 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
Homo economicus
Homo economicus, or Economic human, is the concept in some economic theories of humans as rational and narrowly self-interested actors who have the ability to make judgments toward their subjectively defined ends...

 model. They have been instrumental in creating alternative models, such as the Capability Approach
Capability approach
The capability approach was initially conceived in the 1980s as an approach to welfare economics....

 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. The work of the Equality Studies Department at University College Dublin, and, in particular of Urningin Sara Cantillon has focussed on the internal inequalities of domestic economic arrangements which occur even within externally apparently affluent 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
Amartya Sen
Amartya Sen, CH is an Indian economist who was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to welfare economics and social choice theory, and for his interest in the problems of society's poorest members...

, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr
Sakiko Fukuda-Parr
Sakiko Fukuda-Parr is a development economist who has gained recognition for her work with the United Nations Development Programme and for her writing in publications including the Journal of Human Development, which she founded....

, and other feminist economists have been involved in the development of alternatives to GDP, such as the Human Development Index
Human Development Index
The Human Development Index is a composite statistic used to rank countries by level of "human development" and separate "very high human development", "high human development", "medium human development", and "low human development" countries...

. 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.


Feminist economists argue that economic development
Economic development
Economic development generally refers to the sustained, concerted actions of policymakers and communities that promote the standard of living and economic health of a specific area...

 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
Informal economy
The informal sector or informal economy as defined by governments, scholars, banks, etc. is the part of an economy that is not taxed, monitored by any form of government, or included in any gross national product , unlike the formal 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.

Systemic study of the ways women's work is measured or not measured at all, undertaken by Marilyn Waring
Marilyn Waring
Marilyn Waring, CNZM, D.Phil., D.Litt. is a New Zealand feminist, a politician, an activist for female human rights and environmental issues, an author and an academic, known for her contributions to feminist economics....

 (see If Women Counted
If Women Counted
If Women Counted by Marilyn Waring, former New Zealand Member of Parliament, is an influential book in academic feminism, political economy and feminist economics. The book argues that mainstream economics does not account for women's work, nor for the value of nature...

) 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
Social capital
Social capital is a sociological concept, which refers to connections within and between social networks. The concept of social capital highlights the value of social relations and the role of cooperation and confidence to get collective or economic results. The term social capital is frequently...

 and individual capital
Individual capital
Individual capital, also known as human capital, comprises inalienable or personal traits of persons, tied to their bodies and available only through their own free will, such as skill, creativity, enterprise, courage, capacity for moral example, non-communicable wisdom, invention or empathy,...

, which emerged in the late 1990s and, along with ecological economics
Ecological economics
Image:Sustainable development.svg|right|The three pillars of sustainability. Clickable.|275px|thumbpoly 138 194 148 219 164 240 182 257 219 277 263 291 261 311 264 331 272 351 283 366 300 383 316 394 287 408 261 417 224 424 182 426 154 423 119 415 87 403 58 385 40 368 24 347 17 328 13 309 16 286 26...

, influenced modern human development theory
Human development theory
Human development theory is a theory that merges older ideas from ecological economics, sustainable development, welfare economics, and feminist economics. It seeks to avoid the overt normative politics of most so-called "green economics" by justifying its theses strictly in ecology, economics and...

. See also the entry on Gender and Social Capital
Gender and social capital
Social capital is defined as the trust, norms and networks which allow people to co-ordinate actions and achieve their aims, and is often seen as the missing link in development; as social networks facilitate access to resources and protect the commons, whilst co-operation makes markets work more...


Employment equity

Research into the causes and consequences of occupational segregation
Occupational segregation
Occupational segregation is the distribution of groups defined by ascribed characteristics, mostly gender, across occupations. More basically, it is the concentration of a similar group of people in a job. Occupational segregation levels differ on a basis of perfect segregation and integration...

, the gender pay gap, and "glass ceiling
Glass ceiling
In economics, the term glass ceiling refers to "the unseen, yet unbreachable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements." Initially, the metaphor applied to barriers in the careers of women but...

" phenomena have been a significant part of feminist economics. While conventional neoclassical economic theories of the 1960s and 1970s explained these as the result of free choices made by women and men who simply had different abilities or preferences, feminist economists pointed out the important roles played by stereotyping, sexism
Sexism, also known as gender discrimination or sex discrimination, is the application of the belief or attitude that there are characteristics implicit to one's gender that indirectly affect one's abilities in unrelated areas...

, patriarchal beliefs and institutions, sexual harassment
Sexual harassment
Sexual harassment, is intimidation, bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. In some contexts or circumstances, sexual harassment is illegal. It includes a range of behavior from seemingly mild transgressions and...

, and discrimination
Discrimination is the prejudicial treatment of an individual based on their membership in a certain group or category. It involves the actual behaviors towards groups such as excluding or restricting members of one group from opportunities that are available to another group. The term began to be...

. The rationale for, and the effect of, anti-discrimination law
Anti-discrimination law
Anti-discrimination law refers to the law on people's right to be treated equally. Some countries mandate that in employment, in consumer transactions and in political participation people may be dealt with on an equal basis regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality and sometimes...

, adopted in many industrial countries beginning in the 1970s, has also been a topic of research. Women did, in fact, move in large numbers into previous male bastions (especially professions such as medicine and law) during the last decades of the 20th century.

While overt employment discrimination by sex per se remains a concern of feminist economists, in recent years more attention has also been paid to discrimination against caregivers—those women, and some men, who give hands-on care to children or sick or elderly friends or relatives. Because many business and government policies were designed to accommodate the "ideal worker" (that is, the traditional male worker who had no such responsibilities) rather than caregiver-workers, inefficient and inequitable treatment may result.


Early on, feminist ethicist
An ethicist is one whose judgment on ethics and ethical codes has come to be trusted by a specific community, and is expressed in some way that makes it possible for others to mimic or approximate that judgement...

s, 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
Jane Jacobs
Jane Jacobs, was an American-Canadian writer and activist with primary interest in communities and urban planning and decay. She is best known for The Death and Life of Great American Cities , a powerful critique of the urban renewal policies of the 1950s in the United States...

' 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
Green Movement
The Green Movement refers to a series of actions after the 2009 Iranian presidential election, in which protesters demanded the removal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office...

list feminism
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women's rights...

 as an explicit goal of their political measures, often seeking higher valuations for such work. Feminist economics is also often linked with welfare economics
Welfare economics
Welfare economics is a branch of economics that uses microeconomic techniques to evaluate economic well-being, especially relative to competitive general equilibrium within an economy as to economic efficiency and the resulting income distribution associated with it...

 or labour economics
Labour economics
Labor economics seeks to understand the functioning and dynamics of the market for labor. Labor markets function through the interaction of workers and employers...

, since it emphasizes child welfare, and the value of labour in itself, as opposed to production for a marketplace, the focus of classical economy.

Other explanations for inequalities

There has also been research conducted regarding employment equity not within the body of work by feminist economists. 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.

Feminists of all stripes have challenged the idea that differences in employment outcomes between men and women can be entirely explained by innate, biologically-dictated preferences. Such an argument has been used to exclude and oppress women for generations. The study of women's progress in the economics profession undertaken by Ginther and Kahn, in contrast to the one discussed above, indicates that discrimination may still play a substantial role. Feminist economists are cognizant of the effects of economic and political power differentials, social stereotypes, cultural upbringing, and so on. Some feminists believe that differences in employment outcomes are entirely due to these latter factors, while others are more open to considering some role for biology.

See also

Notable feminist economists
  • Gender equality
    Gender equality
    Gender equality is the goal of the equality of the genders, stemming from a belief in the injustice of myriad forms of gender inequality.- Concept :...

    , or gender equity
  • Gender mainstreaming
    Gender mainstreaming
    Gender mainstreaming is the public policy concept of assessing the different implications for women and men of any planned policy action, including legislation and programmes, in all areas and levels...

  • Intra-household bargaining
    Intra-household bargaining
    Intra-household bargaining refers to negotiations that occur between members of a household in order to arrive at decisions regarding the household unit....

  • Material feminism
    Material feminism
    Material feminism examines the "material conditions under which social arrangements, including those of gender hierarchy, develop" It argues that "material conditions of all sorts play a vital role in the social production of gender"....

  • Time use

External links


  • 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.
  • Lourdes Benería. Gender, Development, and Globalization: Economics as if All People Mattered. New York: Routledge, 2003.
  • Ferber, Marianne A. and Julie Nelson
    Julie Nelson (economist)
    Julie A. Nelson is a feminist economist, most known for her application of feminist theory to questions of the definition of the discipline of economics, and its models and methodology. Nelson received her Ph.D. degree in Economics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.Beyond Economic Man:...

     (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.
  • Jacobsen, Joyce. The Economics of Gender. Wiley-Blackwell, 2007.
  • 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
    Amartya Sen
    Amartya Sen, CH is an Indian economist who was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to welfare economics and social choice theory, and for his interest in the problems of society's poorest members...

    . Development as Freedom. Anchor Books, 1999.
  • Waring, Marilyn
    Marilyn Waring
    Marilyn Waring, CNZM, D.Phil., D.Litt. is a New Zealand feminist, a politician, an activist for female human rights and environmental issues, an author and an academic, known for her contributions to feminist economics....

    . 1989. If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics
    If Women Counted
    If Women Counted by Marilyn Waring, former New Zealand Member of Parliament, is an influential book in academic feminism, political economy and feminist economics. The book argues that mainstream economics does not account for women's work, nor for the value of nature...

    . London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-49262-5

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.)
  • American University
    American University
    American University is a private, Methodist, liberal arts, and research university in Washington, D.C. The university was chartered by an Act of Congress on December 5, 1892 as "The American University", which was approved by President Benjamin Harrison on February 24, 1893...

  • School of Public Policy and Administration at Carleton University
    Carleton University
    Carleton University is a comprehensive university located in the capital of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario. The enabling legislation is The Carleton University Act, 1952, S.O. 1952. Founded as a small college in 1942, Carleton now offers over 65 programs in a diverse range of disciplines. Carleton has...

  • Colorado State University
    Colorado State University
    Colorado State University is a public research university located in Fort Collins, Colorado. The university is the state's land grant university, and the flagship university of the Colorado State University System.The enrollment is approximately 29,932 students, including resident and...

  • Institute of Social Studies
    Institute of Social Studies
    The International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam in The Hague is a unique, independent and international graduate school in the social sciences...

  • Gender Institute of the London School of Economics
    London School of Economics
    The London School of Economics and Political Science is a public research university specialised in the social sciences located in London, United Kingdom, and a constituent college of the federal University of London...

  • Makerere University
    Makerere University
    Makerere University , Uganda's largest and second-oldest higher institution of learning, , was first established as a technical school in 1922. In 1963 it became the University of East Africa, offering courses leading to general degrees from the University of London...

  • University of Massachusetts-Amherst
  • The Masters in Applied Economics and Public Policy programs at the University of Massachusetts-Boston
  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • The New School for Social Research
  • University of Reading
    University of Reading
    The University of Reading is a university in the English town of Reading, Berkshire. The University was established in 1892 as University College, Reading and received its Royal Charter in 1926. It is based on several campuses in, and around, the town of Reading.The University has a long tradition...

  • Roosevelt University
    Roosevelt University
    Roosevelt University is a coeducational, private university with campuses in Chicago, Illinois and Schaumburg, Illinois. Founded in 1945, the university is named in honor of both former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The university's curriculum is based on...

  • Department of Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers University
    Rutgers University
    Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey , is the largest institution for higher education in New Jersey, United States. It was originally chartered as Queen's College in 1766. It is the eighth-oldest college in the United States and one of the nine Colonial colleges founded before the American...

  • Discipline of Political Economy at the University of Sydney
    University of Sydney
    The University of Sydney is a public university located in Sydney, New South Wales. The main campus spreads across the suburbs of Camperdown and Darlington on the southwestern outskirts of the Sydney CBD. Founded in 1850, it is the oldest university in Australia and Oceania...

  • University of Utah
    University of Utah
    The University of Utah, also known as the U or the U of U, is a public, coeducational research university in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States. The university was established in 1850 as the University of Deseret by the General Assembly of the provisional State of Deseret, making it Utah's oldest...

  • Wright State University
    Wright State University
    Wright State University is a comprehensive public university with strong doctoral, research, and undergraduate programs, rated among the 260 Best National Universities listed in the annual "America's Best Colleges" rankings by U.S. News and World Report. Wright State is located in Fairborn, Ohio,...

  • York University (Toronto)