What ever happened to “Feminist economics”?

I suspect most of you have followed (to varying degrees) the recent controversies over gender hostility in economics.  What I find striking is that hardly anyone has mentioned the movement known as “Feminist economics.”  And yes that is a formal thing, here is Wikipedia on “Feminist economics”:

Feminist economics is the critical study of economics including its methodology, epistemology, history and empirical research, attempting to overcome androcentric (male and patriarchal) biases. It focuses on topics of particular relevance to women, such as care work or occupational segregation (exclusion of women and minorities from certain fields); deficiencies of economic models, such as disregarding intra-household bargaining; new forms of data collection and measurement such as the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM), and more gender-aware theories such as the capabilities approach.[1] Feminist economics ultimately seeks to produce a more gender inclusive economics.

There is much more to a very long, thoughtful, and well-documented entry, and feminist economics has been a recognized field or subfield since at least the early 1990s.  There is an entire refereed journal called…Feminist Economics.  There is a significant International Association for Feminist Economics.

Obviously “feminist economics” is a diverse area, but frequently I have seen the claim made that the very nature of economics keeps out women.  It is claimed there is too much emphasis on male modes of production, and sometimes also “male ways of thinking,” and thus economics must itself first reform before it has any chance at achieving gender parity.  There is also a common tendency to criticize Becker’s and other neoclassical theories of the family for reflecting so many implicit, underlying “male” assumptions about how families work or are supposed to work.

So yes, there is plenty awareness of overt discrimination, but writers coming from this approach see a lot of the problems as quite structural, and embedded in how economics is done.  It’s not only the attitudes of some of the male jerks.

Now you may or may not agree, or also you might feel uncomfortable with some of the levels of generalization you find in talk of “male ways of [xxxx].”  Still, many of those in Feminist economics see the structural point as very important.

It is striking to me that most of the major contributors to Feminist economics are women.  And from what I can tell, virtually all of you are ignoring them, even though we have been debating their main issue for weeks now, and they have been at this for decades.

Perhaps you are unaware of them.  The only very recent coverage I have seen is this Edwin Hadas piece, but still it doesn’t mention “Feminist economics” by name.  Here is a short, good Economist piece by S.K. (Soumaya Keynes?)  from March 2016.

The biases run deeper than you think, and they’re not just about gender discrimination.  We’ve set up a profession with super-high entry barriers for clearing the “this deserves my attention” hurdle (“top journals,” “top schools,” you can go on down the list), and then we’re befuddled when there is so much other collateral damage along the way.



"The biases run deeper than you think" - by what miracle do you know what I think about the topic? You with the CIA or something? Or just becoming a pompous, sermonising, member of the Establishment?

Hardly a miracle to have a passing acquaintance with your previous comments... though probably the CIA have better things to do.


Loved the part where he said it's "striking" that "most of the major contributors to Feminist economics are women." A great example of disingenuous male feminist signalling.

Tyler's helping move the field toward gender parity by encouraging males to go into the private sector instead of academic economics.

Indeed. An LOL is all that this shoddy post deserves.

Soumaya Keynes appears to be a direct descendant of Charles Darwin.

Julie Nelson may be the best. Some of us have paid attention, Tyler. You and your generalizations without evidence. Sheesh.

Tyler is trolling about half of his commenters bigly here.

"...male jerks"

No kidding. Stopped reading after this giant-biased-dog-whistle.

I suspect he got caught looking down someone's blouse, and this post is a form of atonement.

But have you written anything about feminist economics?

So are there patriarchal biases in Economics? Why haven't I been told? I demand action!

"The biases run deeper than you think, and they’re not just about gender discrimination."

For a moment there, I thought Tyler was about to come out of the closet as an "intersectionalist" and start chanting woke slogans like "short black left-handed lesbian economists of the world unite!".

I thought it was called "Home Economics".

And we have a winner! Best Comment, hands down.

Karen Barad is well-known for doing feminist physics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Barad

Feminist geography https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminist_geography

has it's own journal: https://genderplaceandculture.wordpress.com

Feminist physics? What?

Particles interact more often, but are meaner behind each other's back.

You won the internet for the day!

Hilarious! (Am I a bad person for thinking that's funny?)

"Feminist physics" is a branch of women's studies, not a branch of physics. Just as feminist geography is a branch of women's studies and not a branch of geography.

All of these may be sub-branches of "science studies," which is about "studying" science (who does it, and how it is done and not necessarily a science itself.

These studies might be viewed as an attempt by non-scientists to assert political control over the sciences (and scientists), but saying so would be a bold and unapologetic assertion of bias.

So, perhaps we could just note that that the sciences have achieved a great deal, but politicized sciences (e.g., Lysenko) not so much?

Just as feminist geography is a branch of women’s studies and not a branch of geography.

It aspires to be. The 'feminist geographer' I'm best acquainted with had weak syllibi (a 300-level course might feature six books, only one of which was by an academic geographer, another might be taught out of a textbook), fancied co-operative learning games, saw all of her classes cancelled by the provost one semester because fewer than five people signed up for any one of them, and was granted tenure on a weak publication record the same year two other members of the arts-and-sciences faculty more extensively published than she were canned so the faculty could meet it's cut-from-the-team quota.

Barad's _Meeting the Universe Half-Way_ also forwards a contribution to theoretical physics: read chapter 7.

If what I've seen of feminist geography is representative, it's a wheel-spinning exercise which should be shut down by budget conscious provosts. Geography has been vulnerable to intellectual hustlers because - I'll wager - it has a weak self-understanding as a discipline.

Wait, did not everyone in the economic freedom movement come to the conclusion by the early 90s that the very idea of feminist economics was considered socialism with a different coat of paint?

When did that change?

The feminist economists I have known or met tend to stress the interdisciplinary nature of their work. Not coincidentally, they tend to think their publications in obscure, interdisciplinary journals are worthy of more credit than they think they receive. They often get more support in women's studies, sociology or demography circles than in econ.

The same charge is made against the hard sciences, and so there is feminist physics that critiques the male "construction" of knowledge in that field as well. Why must we waste more time going down that rabbit hole?

Tyler is apparently anxious to see his profession corrupted by political and social activists dressing up their ideologies as scholarships...well, at least more corrupted than it already is.

yep it was me - thanks!

Soumaya: would it be accurate to say the main difference between feminist economics and economics as it is usually practiced is in welfare economics, in particular how the maximand is defined? That is would it be accurate to state that feminist economics would have accomplished its aims if the maximand were to be re-defined to include for example unpaid work and the consequences of investment in raising children well? To me the criticism of economics from a feminist point of view is that male economists tend to overlook the costs of certain policies because of the situation that they are in because of their gender. Is this correct?

If only it were that simple. In SK's article she says "Feminists, of course, consider gender equality a worthy goal irrespective of its impact on GDP". Which eliminates any maximand and prioritises equality, meaning a nice old scorched earth of 0 for everybody is actually a "worthy goal"....

tjamesjones, that makes perfect sense if GDP is not the maximand. They shouldn't care about the impact on GDP then because that's not what they think should be maximized. Gender equality being a worthy goal also doesn't necessarily imply that zero weight will be attached to other goals.


tjamesjones: if gender equality is a worthwhile goal irrespective of its impact on GDP then that simply means that GDP might not be a worthwhile goal. What's the problem with that? Personally, I care about human welfare irrespective of what the impact on GDP might be.

The tone of the piece suggests "irrespective of its impact on GDP" meant "even if GDP as currently measured is not maximized" rather than "even if GDP reduced to 0".

N is small, but the correlation between increases in GDP and increases in almost every (other) measure of wellbeing approaches 1.0 no matter where you look.

Not sure whether it's appropriate, in this particular thread, to compliment a daughter on her father's book...but what the hell: Soumaya - your dad's book on Charles Darwin and his daughter Annie is one of my all-time favorites.

Tyler warns: "Now you may or may not agree, or also you might feel uncomfortable with some of the levels of generalization you find in talk of “male ways of [xxxx].”"

Next time, remember to give the trigger warning _before_ you expose your readers to such uncomfortable stuff. I'll have to spend the rest of the day in my safe space to deal with the trauma of being exposed to some feminists' over-generalizations.

In many rural areas, feminism is a rather taboo subject, like liberal. I have heard more than one male say.."Don't go getting any of those feminist/liberal ideas." So no, I am not acquainted with the term, feminist economics.

I had always hoped this would become more mainstream. As the daughter of a stay-at-home mom, I can attest that her productivity was much more valuable than my father's. Being a good mother should pay very well.

Lyman Stone wrote about low birth rates and immigration a few weeks ago. If we had addressed the concerns of feminist economics earlier (1970s) would we have seen such a sharp decline? Food for thought.

Being a good mother or a good father does pay very well. The payment is not received in terms that the anti-family zealots who populate both standard and feminist economics can understand, however.

"Being a good mother should pay very well." I just replaced my brake lines in my old truck. Got to figure out how much to write the check to myself.

The economy measures things that fall outside of what you do for yourself for practical reasons. Who is to say what being a mother is worth in dollar terms? If a lawyer stays at home to raise her kids is that more valuable than an admin person staying home?

To my family, it was very valuable. My wife stayed at home until the kids hit 1st grade. We traded her income for more time raising the kids, which turned out to be a good investment. You better hope they don't find a way to evaluate it better, for then the next step will be taxation.

"As the daughter of a stay-at-home mom, I can attest that her productivity was much more valuable than my father’s. Being a good mother should pay very well. "

Did you pay her for it?

"If we had addressed the concerns of feminist economics earlier (1970s) would we have seen such a sharp decline? Food for thought."

As we all know, when societies become more feminist, birthrates go _.

Does child support count as payment for motherhood?

Surely Feminist Economics is just shopping

As with most things feminists are concerned about, the division is not between men and women, it's between elites and non-elites. Most of the elites indeed happen to be men for historical reasons, but a non-elite man is on equally bad position as non-elite woman.

It is, in general, difficult to get recognition for any kind of unconventional thinking in academia or even stay in academia if your thinking is unconventional if you are not part of the elite. The feminists recognize this problem, but mistake the elite for all men. It is similar way of thinking that blames all the Muslims for terrorism when a Muslim extremist carries out an attack, but considers a person of Western origin doing something similar a lone nutcase. For the feminists, men are the out-group and when a small elite consisting mostly of men are a problem, all the men get the blame.

Would the world be a better place if men rather than women had the responsibility to care for the children? When our ancestors were hunters/gatherers, it made sense for the women to care for the children while the men scavenged for food. And it made sense when industrial jobs required brawny men. But what's the point today when physical attributes make little or no difference? Maybe if men had always cared for the children we'd all be vegetarians instead of eating the corpses of dead animals. Maybe if men had always cared for the children we'd have avoided the slaughter of ears triggered by men poaching other tribes' territories in search of animals to eat and women to, well, you know. I'm (nearly) old, which means I have experiences that young people today cannot imagine (segregation, no air conditioning, no interstate highways, very few women working outside the home other than as domestics or secretaries, etc.). Young people don't consider how we got from there to here because they assume it's always been as it is today. Men (and some women) don't consider how male and female roles developed because they assume it's always been as it is today. Feminist economics (or any other sub-specialty that looks at the world that might have been or could be) examines the roles of men and women and how those roles have brought us to where we are today and considers why we are where we are today even as the roles of men and women have changed. That's an uncomfortable subject for some.

If that is what "Feminist Economics" consists of there is no need for such a misleading title. "Feminist" economics would be better called "gender economics" and becomes just a bit of Economic History, with a bit of anthropology and evolutionary psych thrown in. The field is well covered and well understood by most commentators here.

The advocates of "Feminist" economics aren't interested in such things, and would run a screaming mile at any mention of evolutionary psychology or actual physiological differences between men and women. The main concerns of Feminist Economics are "give us a check, you sexist pigs, or we'll scream 'privilege' at you".

I call Motte and Bailey on the whole exercise above.

ITT: rayward rambles semi-coherently for a while before pretending that he knows anything at all about the subject at hand.

I've spent some time away. It's comforting to come back and find the same rugs in the place.

I would rather like to see a critical discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of Wu's the paper, instead of this PC rant.

Feminism is like Freudianism or Marxism in that it "explains" everything and nothing can disprove it. If economics has been able to restrict feminism's influence to some marginal, women-only corner of the discipline, then that much better for economics.

Hush. Demanding falsification, replication, or even internal consistency is an androcentric way of knowing.

Demanding falsification, replication, or even internal consistency has never been a requirement in economics though.

"Feminism is like Freudianism or Marxism in that it “explains” everything and nothing can disprove it. If economics has been able to restrict feminism’s influence to some marginal, women-only corner of the discipline, then that much better for economics."

file that under "shout it from the rooftops"

From the economics to sociology phrasebook, with the sociological term on the left and the economics term on the right:

discrimination wage differential

exploitation contract

is caused by is correlated with

patriarchy (I) sexual division of labor based on technological differences

patriarchy (II) family

bourgeois sexual privatism monogamy

non-normative family arrangements single motherhood

The idea that economics needs feminism is essentially the idea that economics should adopt the sociological approach.

Very insightful observation about the ongoing debate. Thanks Tyler.

...in which Tyler Cowen chooses his words in a careful and calculated manner.

You don't need a weather man to see which way the wind blows.

So are you saying that we shouldn't do so many derivatives?

Economics is a methodology, first and foremost. You can apply it to just about anything (though, you may be mistaken/it may not be useful in your application). So if you want to study the family, gender differences in employment, child-bearing decisions, etc., you can use economics to study those. Tools and methodologies of other disciplines are also useful in studying these questions. If you want to use other tools/methodologies to study those questions, that's fine. Just don't call it economics.

One of my first academic discussions with my then girlfriend, now wife, was over the the book 'The Sexual Politics of Meat.'
Disclaimer: we're both vegetarian, though not in a PETA flag waving way. My argument was that it was interesting, though essentially a classist book about how meat eating was once a luxury of nobility, and then extends in an odd way throughout today (think 'Prime' cuts). I feel like a lot of feminist economics still lays along the same lines, where women are less likely to wield power economically, and thus fall in line with class based arguments. Still worthwhile to pay attention to, of course.

.....where women are less likely to wield power economically.....

Maybe Feminine Economists started to keep they heads down when they found this out:


More women are taking the reins on their finances, holding 60 percent of all personal wealth and 51 percent of all stocks in the U.S., according to Virginia Tech.

At home, the majority of women (90 percent) still control the family's purse strings, from stocking up on household items to having the final say on home and car purchases and health care.

Fair point. I suppose I was speaking generally in terms of equality in terms of political representation and membership on boards of Fortune 500 companies.

Lord knows I don't make a big decision without checking with the missus.

Yes, of course, still worth paying attention to. Like menstruation.

I mean, whatever you're interested in, still pay attention to that. I'm just saying that 51% of the population is female. It would be worthwhile to include their personal and lifetime needs into a discussion.

This is sort of an area that might benefit from some masculinist economics.
IIRC, men typically need to consume more protein than women to maintain good health, because they have more muscle mass. Especially in their 40s and 50s when muscle tone starts to decline. Obviously, it's harder to get enough protein on a vegetarian diet. So trying to stay on a vegetarian diet might be fine for women but harmful to many men. If you're talking about the economics of meat eating and not recognizing sex differences in the body's nutritional needs, you might end up with a skewed idea of why men continue to eat more meat than women.

There are definite physiological differences between men and women that do require nutritional attention. But the book I mentioned was more of a link between meat eating and a sort of machismo type attitude. The basis of the argument was in feudal type societies where fine meat eating was for the upper class, but attempted to connect it to modern times, which I felt fell a bit flat. Sure, 'dudes' like eating ribs and hot wings as a sort of masculine display, but I'm not sure how much it plays into a dominance type role.

"Sure, ‘dudes’ like eating ribs and hot wings as a sort of masculine display"........................or maybe it just tastes good?

I think it has something to do with showing one's intestinal stamina. Surely if you can munch on ribs (and way wierder things in other cultures), then you can handle looking at the guts of your slain enemies on the battlefield.

> It is claimed there is too much emphasis on male modes of production, and sometimes also “male ways of thinking,” and thus economics must itself first reform

We can't just value each idea based on merit. Instead we must assign a gender, race, religion and sexual preference to every idea and then make sure traditionally marginalized ideas get equal representation.

The phrase "structural biases" is terribly nonspecific.

I definitely think there are topics that get overlooked in economics due to men just not thinking about the sort of things that women think about - like why there are no child care facilities on the Google campus, or the economics which is driving overuse of C-Sections in childbirth (a whopping 30% of all births).

I have no idea what they mean by structural biases though. Maybe you could quote some excerpts or something where they explain what they mean by that to see if it's intelligible.

"like why there are no child care facilities on the Google campus"

Google won't make any money off of it. You think they provide all those benefits out of the goodness of their hearts? It's to make their workers work longer.

Who said it was going to be free?
They could invite a national chain of child care centers like Kiddie Academy to open an outlet, the same way they might allow McDonalds or Chipotle to open a franchise on their campus. Anyway, isn't the fitness center contracted out to LA Fitness or something?
It's just the convenience of having it nearby - it doesn't have to be run by Google itself.

Companies do not do it because it is not in their interest, to include tech companies.

As a manager I want people who are either childless or have stay at home spouses and who are 100% committed to work/projects. I want someone answering emails at 1 am if a customer overseas has an important question. I want someone in on the weekends if we need him/her. The truth is 90% of the time this is more important to me than raw intelligence. A 130 iq employee who refuses to answer emails and important client/customer calls at any hour is less valuable than a 120 iq employee who will. There's very little in the private sphere that truly requires a beautiful mind types. And they typically come in one package: unattached dude that literally only cares about his work because he has nothing else. Now if there are unattached women who literally only care about their work and are brilliant and unemployed then there really IS a market failure. And that's a 1 billion dollar bill on the sidewalk. Feel free to start your own tech company.

I wouldn't put a daycare center in because I do not want those people. This thread gives way too much time to skill level and IQ. They are necessary, but not sufficient. You can be the best engineer in the world, but if you aren't answering your phone when a customer in Tokyo or Taipei has a technical question and it's 3 am, then it doesn't matter how smart you are. You are not adding the value that I am paying for.

This kind of thinking is why I hate the managerial class. All they provide in the work world is rules, schedules--things that the actually productive people can do--and then assholery, which is some kind of basic instict. The toadies of the the alpha chimp are selected by evolution for assholeness. They do the nasty things the AC doesn't want to do because that impinges on his charisma. In return they get the bruised bananas.

THANK YOU for providing a perfect example of the "structural bias" in androcentric thinking.
The manager's "wants" supercede the needs of the child, the employee, the stay-at-home spouse, the community, the country and the human race. If that "value that I am paying for" is the only valuable thing that exists in economics, then the human race will cease to exist at all.

I think childcare near work would help workers work longer. Managing childcare can take a lot of time and concentration away from work.

Yes. Many childcare facilities insist that you pick your kids up between 4:30 and 5:00 PM , which forces people to leave early. There' a lot of extra time expenditure in driving to the daycare , then to work on the way there and back. Not to mention emergencies when the day care facility calls to tell you you have to pick your kid up because they are sick or being bratty or something.

When my daughter was younger an at work daycare might have been ok, but having a place close to her school is much better. The daycare will drop her off and pick her up from her school as needed. Maybe it is just me, but I don't get the fixation with daycare at work for anything other than infants.
This seems to be a great in theory but impractical in application idea. Unless you work for a large organization, there is likely not going to be enough interest/space for an onsite daycare. Unless you and your spouse (assuming two parents) work at the same location, this makes trading off duties less easy. For instance, my wife drops our daughter off and I pick her up. Both of us have had onsite daycare options. We've not used them. I doubt we are alone in that regard.

Onsite daycare:trains

I'm pretty confused about how men would overlook child care. Are most children raised by single mothers? Isn't it more likely that Google workers are disproportionately young and childless, and maybe Google would like to keep it that way?

like why there are no child care facilities on the Google campus,

Because they hire childless people.

I'm going to quote some of the Edward Hadas piece because I can get to the Soumaya Keynes one.

Women can be competitive, and men are not always at each other’s throats, but the emphasis on markets does feel like a distinctly masculine approach to the world.

Isn't this itself kind of a sexist assumption? Women typically control the household purchases, so actually they DO interact in the market quite a bit. I mean, they are the people literally going to literal "markets" to buy things. Also, microeconomics can and often does focus on household interactions. I don't see any structural biases there.

It hardly seems accidental that relatively little attention has been paid to the work on non-market decision making done by Elinor Ostrom, the only woman to win a Nobel Prize in economics.

Ostrom has gotten lots of attention, especially among libertarians. Those people who value the free market above all else.

And who can forget “homo economicus”, the economic man who is presented as the basic human unit in almost every introductory course? This is a cool calculating creature whose only interest in other people is what they can do for him. He maximises utility, which is a fancy word for materialist pleasures, and obeys laws and rules only because he has to.

How is this masculine or feminine? Isn't is sort of a sexist assumption that women are less "calculating" and "self-interested"?

Individual utility maximisation is still the default assumption in many economic models and money is still the default measure of economic utility.

So? Women don't maximize their individual utility? Why do you think that?

Isn’t this itself kind of a sexist assumption? W

Who cares? 'Sexist' is a stupid word - a rhetorical thrust, not a coherent concept. What's said there is an observation of mundane reality.

You think it's a mundane reality that markets are inherently masculine?
To me it seems like a wierd perception. Women buy and sell things in markets all the time, and have since forever.

What was referred to was the competitive aspect of markets, which concerns producers, not consumers.

"maximizing utility" is NOT a fancy word for "materialist pleasures"

The increasing barriers or hurdles to entry are common to all higher education including fields dominated by women. There are just fewer higher education tenure-track jobs across the board - arts, humanities, engineering, you name it. And online courses have accelerated the trend.

"occupational segregation (exclusion of women and minorities from certain fields)"
What about the exclusion of men from certain fields? What about the surplus of interested women in certain fields? This limitation on the perspective to effects in one direction makes it impossible to draw meaningful conclusions. If this truly is the underlying concept behind the subfield, it is nearly impossible to make meaningful insights.

I might argue with Cowen over some of the points in this blog entry, but I think many of the comments serve to illustrate why the "toxic environment" deserves attention.

It is this political posturing from feminists when their ideas are held up to scrutiny that makes them so undesirable to have a meaningful discussion with. You conflate disagreement with 'toxicity'. Of course, anything you don't like is probably a result of toxicity isn't it dear? If you really wanted to add to this discussion, you might try refuting some arguments instead of affirming your confirmation bias.

If you want to prove there's not a toxic environment, you can start by not calling her "dear".

Does it matter if she's a woman or not? If women call other women "Dear" is there a toxic masculine environment?

Deal. I won't call her 'dear'. I'll say 'roll with the punches, sister'.

"Roll with the punches, sister" is completely cool, in my book.

Yes, very much this. I thought tech was bad, but comments here feel like HackerNews or some edgelord Reddit forum. It's bizarrely out of key with the content of the actual blog posts as well.

"Academic conflicts are so vicious because the stakes are so small."

We live in a time of unprecedented wealth, safety and opportunity - with women entering university at higher rates than men, and decades after powerful women like Thatcher, Meir and Ghandi successfully led large countries - but if you arrived here from space you would think half the country was enslaved to the other.

and sometimes also “male ways of thinking,” and thus economics must itself first reform before it has any chance at achieving gender parity.

No discipline needs 'gender parity'. A discipline needs seriousness of purpose and method and let the chips fall where they may. Tell Miss Snowflake to play it as it lays and if she want's a more 'feminine' discipline, the Anthropology department would be pleased to add her to their meagre census of majors.

It's funny. GDP really does undercount the contributions of women, but most of feminists I've encountered have found the solution to be for women to start doing things that contribute to GDP. Perhaps we need a "feminine" economics. One that actually *likes* women.

It's true that GDP under-counts the contributions of women, and men, for the work they do in the household. If a woman puts her children in daycare rather than watching them herself, GDP goes up, but so does hours worked, which factors into total productivity. It is not correct to say economics "ignores" those contributions.

I always feel it’s just about skills and nothing else. Anyone who has skills can travel far with determination. So, I don’t think gender makes any difference at all. As a trader, I always keep myself prepared for everything and due to OctaFX broker; I found it all very easy and comfortable. I love it most with their low spreads, high leverage, bonuses and they also provide us with market forecast, insights and all such stuff to keeps us relaxed with things.

My hunch is that the Straussian reading of this post is the correct one.
Cowen doesn't actually believe the face-value reading of this post.

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