More on feminism and economics

Further to points raised in JJ’s post, below: in the field of economic development, theorists have been looking at the relationship between gender inequality and economic growth. Stephanie Seguino argues, in a paper that looks at economic growth in Asian economies between 1975 and 1995, that (amongst other factors) gender inequality had a key role in boosting economic growth (this view is apparently at odds with research else where which suggests equality is good for growth).

(The reference is
Seguino, S. (2000) ‘Accounting for Gender in Asian Economic Growth’, Feminist Economics, 6 (3) pp. 27-58, but I’m afraid subscriptions are required).

The claim is that gendered economic structures, in which women receive lower pay, or perform unpaid domestic work, and accept a lower social and economic status, boost growth due to a number of factors:

  • women’s lower wages lowers unit labour costs (how much per product), so makes for good foreign exchange relations
  • women’s acceptance of lower status means risk of labour strife is lower (reassuring for investors)
  • women’s lower wages mean they have reduced bargaining status – with employers, husbands – so traditional family structures and hierarchies are maintained, control over women’s labour is sustained.

So, when it comes to economic growth, not exactly great motivation to address issues of gender equality, then. I’m not familiar with much of the literature or issues in this realm. Any one else?(thanks to .h. for passing this on)

5 thoughts on “More on feminism and economics

  1. Hmm… I suspect a lot will depend on how ‘economic growth’ is define. If it’s corporations making lots of money, maybe this is right– exploitation is often helpful for that. But surely there are better ways to measure economic growth.

  2. yes indeed. in this paper, she’s working with economic growth as GDP, GNP, and rate of exports.
    i gather that part of the issue is using understandings in development policy that take into account more considerations than these when assessing ‘economic growth’ (though it seems there are huge normative issues around what the aims of development policies should be)

  3. it would take a fair amount of evidence to convince me that preventing the best people from taking positions of power (and other obvious implications) are good for the economy. I think Asian economies beat other economies in spite of sexism as opposed to ‘because of it’.

    I think that there are a number of economically harmful forces towards a reduction in work ethic (and collectivism etc) that might accompany the move towards more equality which just happen to be related to western influence as opposed to casually related to feminism/sexism itself.

    however I haven’t read the paper so I could be convinced otherwise.

  4. Hi GNZ, yes, as mentioned – she presents her view as contrary to the mainstream position that equality boosts growth.
    As far as I can tell, Seguino is committed neither to the claim that
    -gender inequality is a necessary or sufficient condition for growth
    -gender equality will always be damaging to the economy.
    Her aim, as far as I can tell, is to point out a case in which it appears that growth was boosted by gender inequality (as Jender points out, not surprising that exploitation is good for making money) and that this might mean that, in pursuing economic development policies, the focus should be on how to ensure growth is compatible with fair distribution of burdens and benefits across social groups.
    As I say, though, I’m not that familiar with all of the issues here, so I’d recommend you read it (if possible) and see what you make of it!

  5. A coincidence: last night I was talking to the really quite brilliant woman who is the editor of that journal. The very existence of the journal, which she founded, is the story of a woman’s triumph over acadmic adversity; it is the product of her agreement with a university whose economics department treated her feminism intolerantly.

    She remarked that she had recently participated in a PhD viva in philosophy, and that she had previously thought nothing outside the sciences could match economics’ sexism. Now she’s prepared to include philosophy in a list of “the worst.”

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