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Regular version of the site

Economics and Gender

On Wednesday, December 11, 2013, Nancy Folbre, Professor  of Economics,  University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA,  will give a talk at the  Faculty of Sociology of the HSE  within the International Research Seminar Series ‘Sociologies of Morality’. She is a feminist economist  who focuses on economics and the family (or family economics), non-market work and the economics of care. She was elected president of the International Association for Feminist Economists in 2002, and has been an associate editor of the journal Feminist Economics  since 1995.

We spoke to Nancy Folbre before the lecture.

— Could you please introduce the main postulates of the feminist political economy?

— Feminist political economy centers on the notion that gender inequality has important economic causes and consequences. Some feminist political economists, like myself, view patriarchy as a system like capitalism with "laws of motion" that are similar though never identical across different historical circumstances and time periods. This approach differs from traditional Marxian theory in significant ways, rejecting any narrow emphasis on production or the labor theory of value and emphasizing the ways in which systems such as patriarchy, feudalism, capitalism, and state socialism may overlap and interlock, rather than succeeding one another in discrete stages. This approach also emphasizes "intersectionality" the ways in which inequalities based on gender, race/ethnicity, citizenship, and class may intersect, creating complex strategic environments in which one or another form of group identity may sometimes be more, sometimes less important. 

— What aspects of gender inequality are the most urgent today for the global economics?

— This varies by country and context. In the U.S. women have gained access to relatively well-paying occupations and increased their personal and political bargaining power, though this trend seems to have slowed in recent years. It appears that a major problem for U.S. women today is that they continue to bear a disproportionate share of the costs of caring for children and other dependents. In other countries, however, women continue to face major legal barriers and outright discrimination. 

— How can these problems be solved?

— No one knows exactly how these problems can be solved. But it seems apparent that dynamic capitalist development tends to increase women's opportunities as individuals, partly by discouraging specialization in unpaid family work that leaves women with little bargaining power. On the other hand, capitalist development tends to increase the relative costs of family care, and tends to benefit single women more than those with children or elderly family members to care for. 

Game theory and collective bargaining models provide a way of explaining changes and intersectionality comes into play. For instance, when there are very large class differences among women, feminist mobilization is retarded. Women tend to mobilize around gender issues more effectively when they are less divided by class, race/ethnicity, and other dimensions of collectivity identity. 

The so-called welfare state also plays an important role, because it provides social insurance that reduces the cost and risk, to women, of caring for dependents. 

— Have you been cooperating with any Russian researchers? Or do you have any plans on such collaboration?

— I have not had the opportunity to cooperate with Russian researchers, and have not found much research on feminist political economy in Russia other than a classic book by Gail Lapidus, Women in Soviet Society, that influenced my early thinking about patriarchal systems. 

—  What are your professional expectations of the visit to the HSE Moscow?

— I hope to learn more about recent social and economic changes in Russia, and am particularly eager to meet researchers interested in gender inequality.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for the HSE news service

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