Thursday, January 31, 2013

Feminism or industrialization? - but why the "or"?

Don Boudreaux agrees with an author at The Atlantic that the decline in home cooking was due to industrialization "and not by feminism".

He makes an excellent case for the role of industrialization which I hope everyone is aware of. He makes no attempt to refutre the idea that feminism has made a difference, so I'm not quite sure what reasons he has for claiming that. Decisions (largely by women) about home production and about labor supply (which allows women to access the benefits of industrialization) are made in the context of:
- Female bargaining power vis-a-vis men in the household
- Female preferences
- Employer preferences
Each of these has been dramatically influenced by feminism. It seems obvious to me that that has played a role as well, and indeed that activating this enormous segment of the workforce has had important implications for economic growth.

Remember - it's not always one answer or the other. It's often  both and they're often intimately connected.


  1. Ahh... the decline in home cooking seems due to the increasing numbers of women working outside the home and rising numbers of people who "fix meals" by heating up something in the microwave. If a family doesn't eat breakfast. lunch, or supper, or Sunday dinner together, it's a safe bet there will be less "cooking."b I don't know if that's "industrialization" or just modern life.

    Flip side of this: the internet is filled with people who think food is important, who post recipes, etc. Beyond that, we have foodies spending endless hours studying whether bread can be baked at just over room temperature if kept in an oven for several hundred hours, and TV programs with celebrity chefs, and so on.

    I've got to side with Boudreaux here. Stuff is going on which affects the extent and status of home cooking, and you can give different labels to those different things but "feminism" is not really one of them.

  2. So how are you defining this variable "feminism" and how does it work exactly?

    Here's an example: pretty clearly women who have their own means of income have an easier time exercising their ability to divorce (there is a lot of data that demonstrates this in my mind). But is that because of feminism or because of changes brought upon society by "commerce" (and by that I mean it the way that Hume did)? IMO this is prolly a chicken and egg problem, but I would side with commerce.

  3. I would expect it's easier to track when things were invented or when such an invention became common in the workplace or at home. For feminism I might expect someone to cite when something like "Feminine Mystique" was published, but that's just one book rather than necessarily reflective of broader social attitudes. Responses to questions in things like the General Social Survey?

    1. It would be quite simple to compare a society like Saudi Arabia with another society with similar per-capita incomes and see what the differences are in this regard.

    2. That doesn't sound like a good method at all. Way too many unobserved variables likely to be correlated. Tracking changes over time suffers the same problem, but I think less so the shorter the period discussed. I expect the U.S to be a largely similar society the year before and after an invention. If there was a "natural experiment" in Saudi Arabia that caused part of it to get divided off and experiencing more feminism, that could work. That hasn't happened, but I recall that Yemen split and had a civil war. A couple times actually, I think once between monarchist & republican factions (with Saudi Arabia supporting the monarchist side) and later between the republican incumbents vs the socialist revolutionaries.


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