Author’s note: Edith Kuiper is a feminist economist and former president of the International Association for Feminist Economics. She is an associate professor in the Department of Economics at New Paltz State University in New York. Important publications include Off the Margin: Feminist Perspectives on Economics (1995) and A history of economics (2022).
1) Could you please explain what feminist economics is? I suspect a lot of people haven’t heard of the estate. What are its principles? How did it develop?
Feminist economics is a new paradigm in economics that considers women and gender (including race, class, age, and other identities). The discipline of economics and mainstream economics was developed during a period in Western history when women (and others) did not have access to higher education, universities and other places where economic debates and theory building took place. Those who had access were mostly if not exclusively upper-middle-class white European men. Thus, it was their experiences, interests, ideas and questions that defined economics as a field of study and later as a science.
The inclusion of the experience and ideas of women and those formerly excluded from the economy seems to have a fundamental impact on the questions asked, the answers deemed satisfactory, the methods deemed appropriate, the topics and problems addressed. Simply put: who decides in economics what good research entails, determines the direction in which the field develops. Feminist economics studies and aims to explain the experience of women, men, and other people. Feminist economists do not focus exclusively on women, but simply include and explain the behavior of women, children, the elderly, gay and trans people, etc. in their research. This makes feminist economics aim not only to construct new theories but also more broadly to transform the economic discipline as a whole.
Feminist economics has a long history, but the field under this name began to take off in the late 1980s, early 1990s. By then, there were enough female economists (including students in economics) engaged in economics to form groups, organize conferences and conduct critical mass economic research. Many of these people started asking about women and collecting data that was not available before. In the early 1990s, economists turned to critiques of mainstream economics and other theories such as Marxist and institutionalist theories from a gender perspective. This happened with the development of criticisms of the economic methods used in traditional (mainly quantitative) economic research, the way the history of economics was told (focusing exclusively on European and American men of white middle class) and traditional economic policy-making. During these years, feminist economists established the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) in 1992 and the Journal feminist economics in 1995.
2) What is the position of feminist economists in the profession, how do mainstream economists treat you and your colleagues?
Feminist economists work in virtually every subfield of economics, from macroeconomics, labor economics, finance, economic history to development economics. In the early years, it was very difficult to engage in feminist economic research without a warrant because there was a substantial risk of losing one’s job by doing so. There was, and to some extent still is, a great deal of discrimination against women. You can only imagine how things were for women of color. When women economists in addition, also studied women, it was very difficult to make a career in economics. This has improved over the years, although the field of feminist economics is not yet fully recognized. For many economists, this requires time and a retraining that not everyone is ready to do. Feminist economic research has, however, been fully recognized in development economics and by international institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF. The field of history of economic thought now welcomes research on women in the history of the field. There are many relevant and novel questions to research. It is an exciting and inspiring field.
3) What do you think attracts most people to the study of feminist economics? Why feminist economics and not international trade or monetary theory, for example?
Feminist economics is different from subfields like macroeconomics and monetary theory and other economic theories like Keynesianism or monetarism because it is a new paradigm, which means a complete alternative to the curriculum traditional economic research. It’s saving money, while taking into account women and gender (and race, class, gender, etc.). Feminist economists are therefore active in many fields such as international trade, macroeconomics, international finance, etc. etc This means you can both be a feminist economist and research international trade or monetary theory. I am a feminist economist and an economic philosopher and historian, for example.
4) In the introductory essay to Routledge Handbook of Feminist Economics the subdiscipline is said to have been heavily influenced by the social thought of Veblen and Marx. Would it be possible to have a feminist economy in a more conservative framework like von Mises or von Hayek?
This has been the case, but feminist economics has also been heavily influenced by neoclassical economics and Keynesian economics. There have been a series of attempts to reframe feminist economics within a particular already existing economic theory. It never worked. There are feminist economists like Deirdre McCloskey, who considers herself a feminist economist and is an enthusiastic pro-capitalist and liberal economist. So yes, it would be possible. Not all feminist economists agree on which economic theory to use, but they do agree that women’s interests and behavior should be included, explained and addressed by economists and that gender (and race, class, age and heteronormativity) plays an important role in economics as well as in thinking about economics.
5) In your latest book, A history of economics you draw attention to a number of women economists who have been overlooked in the history of economic development. Can you name such names?
Mary Collier (c. 1688-1762), for example and one of my favorites, was a laundress who wrote a beautiful long poem about the double burden of working women, woman’s work (1739). Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) had to support herself and wrote short stories applying the economic concepts of Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus to people’s daily lives. She did this to show what these concepts and theories meant and to teach them the importance of, for example, savings and family planning. She was making a good income doing that, by the way. Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (1827-1891) led a group of women in London who researched the education and work of women. They also fought to get Parliament through bills, one that would give women the right to divorce (which became the Divorce Act of 1857) and another that would improve women’s property rights (which was accepted in the British Parliament as the Married Women Property Act 1870). These acts have changed the lives of many women. Another example is the American Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander (1898-1989) who was the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate in economics in 1921, and who researched the poverty of 100 migrant black families in Philadelphia. The women quoted in my book have brought women’s economic experience, issues and interests into the public debate, but the vast majority of them have so far not been recognized by economists of their time. and economic historians.
6) What are the books, magazines and essays that you suggest to someone who wants to know more?
I suggest reading some of these books to learn more about feminist economics:
Barker, Drucilla K., Bergeron, Suzanne and Feiner, Susan F. (2021) The liberating economy. Feminist perspectives on families, work and globalization. 2n/a ed., Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Folbre, Nancy (2021) The rise and fall of patriarchal systems. An intersectional political economyLondon and New York: Verso.
Badget, Lee (2020) The Economic Case of LGBT Equality. Why fair and equal treatment benefits everyoneBoston, Mass.: Beacon Press.
On the history of feminist economics:
Becchio, Giandomenica (2020) A history of feminist economics and gender economicsNew York: Routledge
Ferber, Marianne A. and Nelson, Julie A. (2003) Feminist economics today. Beyond the economic manChicago: University of Chicago Press.
On the history of women in economics:
Folbre, Nancy (2009) Greed, lust and gender. A history of economic ideas. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Kuiper, Edith (2014) The thought of women economists in the 18th centuryNew York: Francis and Taylor, Routledge.
Madden, Kristen and Dimand, Robert (2019) Routledge Handbook of the History of Women’s Economic ThoughtNew York: Routledge.
May, Ann Mari (2022) Women in dismal science. Women in the first year of the economic profession. New York: Columbia University Press.
Rostek, Joanna (2021) Economic thought of women in the romantic period. Towards a transdisciplinary history of economic thoughtLondon: Routledge.
Chris Loukas was born in Greece and is a business journalist and a bronze medal winner at the 2022 International Economics Olympiad. His articles have been featured by the Foundation for Economic Education, the Mises Institute and Adam Smith Works.