Gender Issues in Economic Research

The RES Committee on Women in Economics organised a special session at the RES 2004 Annual Conference illustrating the application of economics to a range of gender issues. This report was prepared by Ramya Sundaram, and Myrna Wooders, repectively the discussant and organiser, RES 2004 ‘Women in Economics’ Committee Session.

Three papers, each focusing on aspects of the interaction between the structure of the family and economic outcomes of the community were presented at the ‘Women in Economics’ Committee session at the 2004 Royal Economic Society Annual Conference.

Marriage and consent
Lena Edlund, of Columbia University, highlighted the significance of giving individuals, particularly women, the right to contract their own marriage. This right, which she referred to as ‘individual consent,’ became widespread in the western world between the seventh and eleventh century with the spread of Christianity. It is only since the beginning of the twentieth century that this right is becoming increasingly common in other parts of the world.

Lena (with co-author Nils Lagerlof) focused on the impact of individual consent on the distribution of wealth within a family. She hypothesized that individual consent leads to transfers of wealth from the third generation (older parents) to the second generation (adult children). She further argued that the second generation cares more about investment in their children than do the children’s grandparents. Investment in children, particularly in their education, can increase the rate at which a country grows. Thus, Lena contended, individual consent might have contributed to some extent to the rise of the Western world as an economic power.

To test this theory, Lena (with co-author Aminur Rahman) studied data from Bangladesh, which includes third generation families (consisting of a patriarch and his extended family), middle generation families (a nuclear family with or without a co-residing parent of the head of household), and nuclear families. While this research is still preliminary, the authors consistently found that children in homes including only a female grandparent seem to fare better than children in homes including a patriarch.

The demand for wives
Alfonso Diez of the University of Warwick, presented joint research with Ian Walker and Myrna Wooders, on the impact of female labour productivity on the incidence and intensity of polygyny. The model focused on rural situations with an ‘outside option’ for males. This option could be interpreted as employment in a city or emigration to work in another country. Wives provide both children and labour. The demand function for wives (as a function of the bride price and the other parameters of the model) was derived and the main hypotheses were tested using a cross-country database. One of the main conclusions was that an increase in female productivity will lead to an increase in the bride price and in polygyny, measured as the average number of wives of each married man. The preliminary empirical results support the conclusions of the model but significance levels are not high.

Discrimination and economic growth
Berta Esteve-Volart, of the London School of Economics, presented work on the impact of gender discrimination on the growth rate of a country. The discrimination takes one of two forms — either the complete exclusion of women from the labour market, or the exclusion of women from managerial positions. This exclusion impacts economic growth through two channels. The first channel works by reducing the incentive of women to invest in human capital. The second channel works by decreasing the talent of persons in managerial positions, thus reducing the rate of innovation in the economy.

Berta tested her model using data from the different states of India. She found that the ratio of female-to-male managers, as well as the ratio of females to males among all workers, has a positive and significant coefficient, when regressed with GDP per capita as the dependent variable. She additionally used an instrumental variable to deal with the issue of causality — whether gender discrimination leads to lower economic growth, or whether economic growth by itself brings about reductions in gender discrimination.

The RES Women in Economics Committee is inviting proposals for the ‘Women in Economics’ Committee Session at the RES 2005 Annual Conference. Further details of the conference can be found on p.11.

Further information about the RES Women in Economics Committee and its activities can be found at:

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