Economics of Gender and the Family

For a Word version of this syllabus, click here

Professor Steven Horwitz Spring 2001

108 Hepburn Hall MWF 9:40 - 10:40

229-5731 (office) 19 Hepburn Hall

379-9737 (home before 9pm)

Office Hours: T, Th 1-2, F 11-12, and by appointment

Email: Web: AIM:sghorwitz

It is sometimes hard to imagine that it has been less than 100 years since women in the United States acquired the right to vote and have had anything close to the protection of their rights to contract and acquire property that men have historically had. The 20th century will be remembered as a time when the political, cultural, and economic roles of women expanded and changed in remarkable ways. Those changes have been paralleled by, and are surely related to, similar remarkable changes in the structure of family life. The obvious fact that more women, especially middle-class white women, are in the labor force has led to enormous changes for society and for the family. Despite all of these changes, and despite the numerous gains that women have made over the century, there remain differences in how men and women experience the worlds of market work and home work. We will explore the history and causes of these changes and critically assess the ways in which both market work and home work remain patterned by gender.

Being an economics course, we will make use of the tools of economics to do our history, examine our causes, and make our critical assessments. Economic theory can help to understand the benefits and costs of marriage and child-bearing. It can shed light on how families divide up their market work and home work, and why those divisions often take place in gendered ways. Economics can, of course, offer explanations for why men and women pattern their market work in the ways they do. For example: why are some jobs primarily male and others primarily female? Why do men, on average, have higher incomes than women do? There are a variety of explanations for those outcomes, and economics can critically analyze whether discrimination alone can account for all of these differences. Economics has something to contribute to understanding the ways in which gender interacts with class, race, and sexuality in exploring issues such as the feminization of poverty, the condition of the African-American family, and the increased openness of gays and lesbians in American life. Like any discipline there are limits to what economics can say, and we will explore those limits with contributions from other disciplines that look at many of the same issues that we will explore using economics.

This course will put a premium on critical thinking skills and class discussion. We will also make use of economic tools you studied in intro, as well as adding a few more to your toolkit. If you like to discuss controversial issues, and if you're interested in what economics can say about them, then this is the class for you.


Your grade for this course will be based on three exams, two short papers, a brief reaction paper, an electronic journal, and class participation/attendance. The three exams will each cover a different section of the course, with the third taking place at the assigned time for the final and including some, but not much, cumulative material. The exams will be short answer/essay format. The short papers will be no more than 3 pages long and will ask that you make use of ideas and analyses we have used in class by applying them to issues of public concern. We will talk more about these assignments as they get closer. In addition, you will write a reaction paper based on one episode of the PBS show 1900 House.

The interactive electronic journal requires that you understand how to use email with software such as Netscape or Explorer or Eudora, and know how to attach a Word file to an email. What will be required of you is to create a Word file that includes your reactions/responses to one of the readings or to the class discussion and send me that file as you finish an entry. Sometimes I will suggest topics for you to write on; other times it will be up to you to react to what you are reading or we are discussing in class. I expect each of you to produce no less than 8 quality journal entries over the semester. I will comment on your responses and pose some questions and issues of my own. Over the course of the semester, this be an intellectual journal of your experience in this course, as well as a way for us to interact one-on-one. I will grade your journals at mid-semester and again at the end, for a total of 15%.

In addition, class participation and attendance will count 15%. Although there will be times that a more traditional lecture format is necessary, I expect that there will be a great deal of time for discussion and debate in this course. Being in class and contributing to class discussions is central to you succeeding in the course and to the course being an interesting and enjoyable one.

Grading breakdown:

Exam #1 15%

Exam #2 15%

Exam #3 15%

Short paper #1 10%

Short paper #2 10%

1900 House reaction paper 5%

Electronic journal (7% / 8%) 15%

Class participation/attendance 15%

 Treat this syllabus as a contract - it is the final court of appeal for all disputes. Late assignments are subject to a 5 points (out of 100) per day penalty. All requests for extensions must be made at least 48 hours in advance. I am not completely sure how long everything will take, so there may be changes to this syllabus. Such changes will be announced, but it is your responsibility to be aware of them.


(J - Jacobsen)

Topic (approximate # of classes) Reading



Getting started: home work and market work J (1)

Principles review J (1 - appendix)

A look at the data J (2)

We begin by getting a sense of what the issues are, and reminding ourselves of some of the tools of economic analysis we'll need in order to explore those issues. Of particular importance is getting a sense of the differences that exist between men and women in the labor force and the economy as a whole.


The family and the formation of households J (3)

An economic history of the family Segalen

The economics of child production McKenzie and Tullock

One of the uses of economic reasoning that is most relevant to gender and the family is using it to help us understand the formation of households, which normally occurs through the institution of the family. Here we'll look at the costs and benefits of marriage (and household formation more broadly), as well as taking a historical look at the evolution of the family and the economic factors that have affected it. We will also discuss the costs and benefits of having children, and see what economics can contribute there.


Labor force participation patterns J (4)

Exam #1 - Friday February 23rd

Labor force participation and family structure J (5)

Gender patterns in household production Hochschild;

Robinson & Milkie The last 100 years 1900 House episode

The relationship among gender, market work, and home work is at the core of understanding the economics of gender and the family. In this section we will look at changes in the labor force participation of men and women, and how those changes have, in turn affected the form of the family. As more and more women are working full-time, what have been the effects on family? Economics has some interesting things to say about such issues, but often begins to run aground when socialization and gender roles become relevant. We'll supplement our economic analysis with two different looks at the division of household labor and the conflicts between economic forces and social forces.


Gender patterns in the world of market work J (6)

Why is market work patterned by gender?

Human capital J (7)

Compensating differentials J (8)

Discrimination J (9)

One of the central policy questions involving economics and gender is the issue of why women earn less than men do in the market. The easy answer is that women are discriminated against. And while we will certainly explore the degree to which that answer is also a correct one, there are also other explanations for those differences in earnings. In this section, we will explore what those differences are, and examine three possible (and not mutually exclusive) explanations for them: differences in human capital, compensating differentials in employment, and discrimination. Don't expect any easy answers here, but do expect to gain some theoretical tools to help you ask better questions.

Exam #2 - Monday April 2nd


Comparable worth legislation J (324-42); Rhoads

Markets and discrimination Walker

Regulation as a source of discrimination Ehrenreich & English

We will continue our policy discussions by looking at some broad issues concerning regulation, policy, and gender. First, we'll take a a close look at comparable worth policies and explore the issues they raise. Then we will discuss the relationship between discrimination and the market and talk about the ways in which markets can both facilitate discrimination and render it costly. Then we will look at a historical example where men used the power of government regulation to undermine the ability of women to advance in a particular labor market, in this case health care provision.


Women in the economic history of the US J (14)

Race, class, and the economics of gender J (15)

African-American family forms Stack

The economics of gay identity D'Emilio

Issues of gender also cross-cut with issues of race, class, and sexuality. There is an unfortunate tendency to take "women" to mean "middle-class white women." The issues that face poor women, or women of color, are often very different and analyses that assume a certain type of woman, whether explicitly or implicitly, can lead to wrong or oversimplified results and policy implications. We will explore some of these issues by looking at Carol Stack's classic ethnography of poor, urban, African-American families All Our Kin. Economics has a lot to say about the ways in which the families in the book adjust to their economic and social circumstances and it will be a very interesting and informative way to both see economics in action and to understand the policy complications that the intersection of poverty, race, and gender raise. We will conclude this section with a discussion of the role of economic factors in the increased viability, and visibility, of gays and lesbians. This phenomenon has an economic component to it and we will explore what it might be.


Feminism, capitalism, and socialism

The longer view 1900 House episode

We will wrap up the semester with some considerations of the broad issues we have explored.

Exam #3 - Wednesday May 9th 8:30am




Jacobsen, Joyce P.. 1998. The Economics of Gender, 2nd edition, New York: Blackwell.

Stack, Carol B. 1974. All Our Kin: Strategies For Survival in a Black Community. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Readings: D'Emilio, John. 1993. "Capitalism and Gay Identity," reprinted in The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, Henry Abelove, et. al., eds., New York: Routledge.

Ehrenreich, Barbara and Deirdre English. 1973. "Women and the Rise of the American Medical Profession," reprinted in Wendy McElroy, ed., Freedom, Feminism, and the State, 2nd edition, New York: Holmes and Meier, 1991.

Hochschild, Arlie Russel. 1989. The Second Shift, New York: Avon, chapter 4.

McKenzie, Richard and Gordon Tullock. 1975. The New World of Economics, Homewood, IL: Richard Irwin, chapter 9.

Rhoads, Steven E.. 1993. Incomparable Worth: Pay Equity Meets the Market, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, chapter 2.

Robinson, John P. and Melissa A. Milkie. 1998. "Back to Basics: Trends in and Role Determinants of Women's Attitudes Toward Housework," Journal of Marriage and the Family 60, February: 205-18.

Segalen, Martine. 1996. "The Industrial Revolution: From Proletariat to Bourgeoisie," in Andre Barguiere, et. al., eds, Sarah Hamburg Tenison, trans., A History of the Family vol. 2, Cambdrige, MA: MIT Press.

Walker, Deborah. 1995. "Feminism and Economics: Legislation or Markets?" in Rita J. Simon, ed., Neither Victim nor Enemy, Lanham, MD: Women's Freedom Network and University Press of America.

1900 House (selected episodes). Shown on the campus network.