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International Working Group on Gender, Macroeconomics and International Economics (GEM-IWG)

The efficiency of gender equity in economic growth:
Neoclassical and feminist approaches


GEM-IWG Working Paper 07-4

Elissa Braunstein

The International Working Group on Gender, Macroeconomics and International Economics (GEM-IWG)

March 2007

SARPN acknowledges GEM-IWG as a source of this document: www.genderandmacro.org
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Abstract

In this paper I critically discuss neoclassical and feminist challenges to standard neoclassical approaches to institutions by focusing on analyses of the role of gender equity in economic growth. Feminists argue that the exercise of power and collective action are central to the evolution of gender hierarchies. Neoclassical treatments largely focus on the inefficiency of gender inequity, and how market imperfections discourage institutional change. We begin with a review of gender in neoclassical growth theory, moving from traditional theories of factor accumulation to the new growth theory literature which contends that institutions like gender matter for growth. Then we turn to feminist/heterodox political economy, focusing primarily on the macroeconomic literature, and then conclude with some thoughts on the evolution of the sexual division of labor. The primary context of this discussion is development and the processes of industrialization in the late twentieth century, as that is the focus of much of the growth literature.

Introduction

The question of why hierarchies evolve and persist is an old one in economics. Classic treatments in what came to be known as the “new institutional economics” explain the evolution of hierarchy in the firm (Coase 1937) and the family (Becker 1991) in terms of their contributions to economic efficiency. Just as organizing production within a firm offers economic advantages over individual transactions in a spot market, so does the sexual division of labor contribute to increased efficiency in family production. Institutions like hierarchy are explained primarily as solutions to coordination problems.

In this paper I critically discuss neoclassical and feminist challenges to the efficient institutions paradigm by focusing on analyses of the role of gender equity in economic growth. Feminists argue that the exercise of power and collective action are central to the evolution of gender hierarchies; institutions reflect the “problem-solving and the powerseeking efforts of the past” (Folbre 1994b: 48). Neoclassical treatments largely focus on the inefficiency of gender inequity, and how market imperfections discourage institutional change.

We begin with a review of gender in neoclassical growth theory, moving from traditional theories of factor accumulation to the new growth theory literature which contends that institutions like gender matter for growth. Then we turn to feminist/heterodox political economy, focusing primarily on the macroeconomic literature, and then conclude with some thoughts on the evolution of the sexual division of labor. The primary context of this discussion is development and the processes of industrialization in the late twentieth century, as that is the focus of much of the growth literature.



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