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You Are Here: Home > Essay Topics > Sociology Essays and Research Papers > Gender Research Paper Topics  > Essay on Economics of Sex and Gender

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Essay on Economics of Sex and Gender

Work on public policy issues affecting women's economic status has been extensive, not only on matters of labor market discrimination but also on issues such as access to credit or pensions, welfare and poverty, childcare availability, family leaves, health care, and taxation. Beginning in the 1990s, a number of countries developed ''gender budgets'' that analyze government budgets for their gender impacts.

Scholars of the history of economic thought have researched the lives and writings of early women economists and examined how male economists treated issues of sex and gender in historical texts. In the process, they have brought renewed appreciation (at least among feminists) to the economic writings of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935), Margaret G. Reid (1896-1991), and others. The historical writings of male economists on questions regarding women show, with only a few notable exceptions, a pronounced tendency to substitute cultural biases for analysis (Pujol 1992). Gendered analysis has been applied not only to the history of neoclassical economics but also to the history of Marxist, institutionalist, and other schools of economics.

While the economic history of various countries and regions traditionally focused on men's activities, feminist scholars have investigated the roles played by women. Women's historical roles as household workers, as agricultural or industrial workers, as colonists or subjects of colonization, and as activists in combating discrimination or changing public policies have been investigated.

The economic status of girls and women in the global South has increasingly become a topic of economic study. The economist (and Nobel laureate) Amartya Sen played a crucial role in increasing attention paid to this area with his 1990 report on the missing women of China, India, and other countries. In these parts of the world, the number of adult women is substantially below the number that would be expected from a normal ratio of births. Inferior access to food and health care (and, increasingly, the use of sex-selective abortion) has caused millions of women to go ''missing.'' Feminist scholars such as Diane Elson (1995) and Lourdes Beneria (2003) have also investigated the gender impact of international policies related to trade, investment, and credit, carried out by individual nations and multilateral organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Shifts in the trading patterns for goods produced by women versus by men, for example, or macroeconomic policies that lead to cuts in support to health, education, or child care, can differentially affect men and women.

In many fields in which empirical data can be disaggregated by sex, literatures have grown up examining sex differences in male and female economic behavior. These include studies, for example, of whether women or men are more cooperative in experimental game situations (laboratory studies in which economists study choice behavior), or whether sex makes a difference in the willingness to take risks in investment decisions. In some of these studies, attempts are made to adequately explain and explore any differences found, whereas in others the analysis remains at a superficial level.

The intersections of sex and gender with issues of race, class, caste, sexual preference and gender identity have also been researched. The economist M. V. Lee Badgett (2001) and others, for example, have studied labor market discrimination and household structures among gays and lesbians. The economist Deirdre McCloskey (1999) has written about her transsexual transition.

Sexuality has also entered economics discussions under the topics of commercial sex, rape, and sexual harassment. A few labor market studies have focused on the working conditions and pay of sex workers. Some economists, and many in the area of law and economics, have studied the use of rape and sexual harassment to intimidate women in the workforce. In 1992 Richard A. Posner, a neoclassical economist, libertarian, and leading figure in the law and economics movement, published a controversial book titled Sex and Reason, in which he addressed topics including prostitution, abortion, and rape. Critics claim that his arguments (such as his characterization of female infanticide as simply a rational method of family planning) tend to epitomize a blindly economistic view of the world.

Beginning in the 1990s, feminist economists including Nancy Folbre (1994) and Susan Himmelweit (1999) initiated research on the topic of caring labor. Work such as nursing or child care, which is done for pay, but also often out of a sense of concern for or emotional closeness with the person receiving the service, transgresses the usual boundaries between concepts of love and work. Empirical studies about the conditions of such work, as well as studies of the sorts of belief systems that often make such work ill-paid or disrespected, have taken place within economics as well as in related fields such as sociology and political theory. Communication among scholars on this issue often breaks down around the question of whether economies are inherently cold and impersonal, or whether this belief is itself a social construction (Nelson 2006).



Badgett, M. V. Lee. 2001. Money, Myths, and Change: The Economic Lives of Lesbians and Gay Men. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Beneria, Lourdes. 2003. Gender, Development, and Globalization: Economics as if All People Mattered. New York: Routledge.

Elson, Diane, ed. 1995. Male Bias in the Development Process. 2nd edition. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

Folbre, Nancy. 1994. Who Pays for the Kids? Gender and the Structures of Constraint. London: Routledge.

Himmelweit, Susan. 1999. ''Caring Labor.'' Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 561: 27-38.

McCloskey, Deirdre. 1999. Crossing: A Memoir. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Nelson, Julie A. 2006. ''Can We Talk? Feminist Economists in Dialogue with Social Theorists.'' Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 31(4): 1052-1074.

Pujol, Michele A. 1992. Feminism and Anti-feminism in Early Economic Thought. Aldershot, UK: Edward Elgar.

Sen, Amartya. 1990. ''More than 100 Million Women Are Missing.'' New York Review of Books 37(20): 61-66.

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