Gender Studies and Economics

1151 words | 4 page(s)

It is often said that mathematics is the purest form of knowledge. Expect in some very esoteric situations, there is no ambiguity, and in order to understand any other form of science, you must use mathematics. In this way, mathematics are the building blocks of science, without them, you cannot reach any meaningful conclusions, and in fact you cannot even begin to understand many natural phenomena such as pressure, diffusion, or even gravity.

Many in the hard sciences insist that without controlled experiments, repeated tests of hypotheses, and quantifiable data, no true conclusions can be reached. Until recently, social sciences were grouped with the humanities and were considered soft, unscientific, and generally lesser disciplines. This has been changed. The social sciences have been built up as rigorous and important fields of study that must be taken into account, and the reason is economics. Economic theory’s position in the social sciences has been advanced to the point that it is almost analogous to mathematics in the hard sciences. It is practically irreplaceable and it used to understand nearly every other discipline in the field. Because of the novel nature of rigor in many of these fields, economics has not been fully injected into many studies. One of the most critical to understand is the field of gender studies. By integrating the study of gender with economics, it is possible to arrive at meaningful conclusions about problems affecting billions across the globe and to device scientific conclusions to alleviate suffering, advance equality, and promote the field. The problems are numerous, difficult, and diverse, but can each be tackled in turn with this interdisciplinary approach.

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Income inequality is one of the most poignant issues in the developed world that affects women. In the modern world and in most fields, women do identical work to men, and often hold supervisory positions above them. Despite this, women frequently receive lower wages. In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics released a study in 2009 that detailed income disparity throughout recent American history highlighting these issues. In 1979 (the first year in which sufficient statistics and data were available), the average woman made 62% of the average man’s wage. In 2009, that figure had risen to 80%, and the percentage peaked in 2005 and 2006 at 82%. (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2009) Obviously, this does not truly capture income inequality. It does take into account the number of women in the workforce compared to men, a figure that has always been low due to traditional concepts of woman as child-rearers and home-makers, by utilizing the median rather than the mean, but it does not control for a host of issues that may affect the figures.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) compiled more granular data that matches individuals by professions and experience and compares their incomes. They found that in no profession do women make more money, or the same amount, as men. In some fields, women made as little as 65% of the men’s wage. Most of fields hover between the high 70s and low 90s. This is a vast improvement over the situation in the past, but is obviously unacceptable in any country, much less a developed country with a sky-high GDP.

This is a fascinating economic problem to study, and it is only one of many problems with great importance in the field of gender studies that can be tackled with economics. Traditional academics in the field of gender studies are well-schooled in their topics, and are incredibly intelligent individuals, but the majority were raised and trained in the “old-school” of humanities and social sciences. An injection of robust methods and rigorous hypothesis testing can give the field a massive boost, raise awareness of the critical problems, and develop solutions.

Another fascinating topic that conflates economics and gender studies involves microloans. These small loans are given to individuals in poor communities that do not have access to traditional financial institutions, and even if they did would be unable to meet the requirements for a regular loan. They have no capital, often no mailing address, and their business plans frequently fail. These loans could be as simple as $50 to supplement a poor man’s meager savings in order to purchase a cow. The purchase of a cow would provide that man and his family with milk and an income, vastly raising their standard of living. No bank would waste its time lending fifty dollars, and more than likely would never see a return on their investment. Angel investors and other charitable individuals establish institutions that give these loans with very generous repayment procedures. Many loans are never repaid, although some are, allowing the organization to break even or occasionally turn a profit. Mohammad Yunus, a famous economist pioneered this procedure, and the basic, fundamental economics have been established. What is now emerging is an entire field of economic study understanding how to best target and plan these loans to maximize the benefit to the borrowers and also provide a return for investors, making it a viable business model rather than a charity project.

This provides an entry for gender studies. While the data is still incomplete and the studies are not definitive, there are serious indicators that women are better candidates for these loans. A variety of instruments have been proposed for this preference, but desire for instant gratification, ability to travel and responsibilities for homes and children are the most popular. By investigating this in an interdisciplinary manner, one could develop a mixed method approach to get to the bottom of this problem and determine the optimal methods for lending. This does not mean that lenders would simply give more loans to women. Using the integrated approach, a researcher could determine what characteristics of the success women are actually enabling that success and seek to replicate them. It may become evident that the most effective way to execute such a strategy would be to only give loans to women, but thorough research may identify traits or characteristics that man can also display, allowing loan-granting organizations to distribute funds more widely.

Gender studies is a wide ranging and complex field. It is a study of some of the most basic characteristics of humankind, and how those characteristics interact with modern socio-economic conditions. To fully understand that interaction, economic principles and understanding must be applied. Using the confluence of these two fields, old problems that have challenged those who study each field for decades may be solves, new problems will be conceptualized and tackled, and general knowledge will be advanced.

  • Ariane Hegewisch, Claudia Williams, Amber Henderson. (2011). “The Gender Wage Gap by Occupation”. Institute for Women’s Policy Research
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics (2009). Highlights of Women’s Earnings in 2009. Retrieved from
  • Yoolim Lee & Ruth David (Dec 28, 2010) “Suicides in India Revealing How Men Made a Mess of Microcredit”Bloomberg Markets Magazine. Retrieved from:

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