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Joyce P. Jacobsen, Advanced Introduction to Feminist Economics

Giandomenica Becchio
p. 231-234
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Joyce P. Jacobsen, Advanced Introduction to Feminist Economics, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2020, 171 pages, 978-178254576-7

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1This book is a schematic summary of the nature of feminist economics and its possible applications to economic theory and economic matters. Jacobsen intends to provide such a summary by focusing on the most recent developments within the discipline. She also provides a sort of feminist economics framework to understand gender issues and inequality as well as how to address them. Although officially recognized as an independent research field only in 2005, when it was provided a JEL code (B54) by the American Economic Association, feminist economics traces its history back in the 1970s. Influenced by feminist philosophy, feminist activism and the emergence of women’s studies within academia, feminist economics was institutionalized in the early 1990s when the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) (1992) was established and its academic journal, Feminist Economics (1995), was launched (Becchio, 2020).

2As Jacobsen rightly points out, in the very first line of Chapter I, the urgency of rethinking mainstream economics was pivotal among the original intents of feminist economists. Standard economics was unable to properly address gender issues and gender inequality: they were examined by applying cost-benefit analysis without paying attention to the influence of social norms on shaping gender stereotypes that mainly disadvantage women. Jacobsen helps the reader to understand that, differently from the economics of gender which adopts standard economics to cope with gender gaps (Jacobsen, 2007), feminist economics combines feminism and economic theory in order to reshape standard economics and to “rehumanize economics as a field” (1). Since the institutionalization of feminist economics within the discipline many books about its nature and intents have been published (Feiner et al., 1995; Nelson, 1996; Peterson and Lewis, 1999; Ferber and Nelson, 2003). Most of them mainly aimed at interpreting feminist economics as an alternative to the standard economic approach as well as to conceptualize new economic models that account for both efficiency and equity. Jacobsen specifies that efficiency and equity have been the outstanding notions of feminist economics: while for many feminist economists as well as for neoclassical economists there is a trade-off between equity and efficiency (feminist economists usually stands for equity, while neoclassical economists usually stands for efficiency) she insists that feminist economics is able to combine efficiency with equity, because an economic system that takes account of equity is more efficient than an economic system that is merely focused on efficiency without any regard of equity. Another structuring issue of feminist economics is gendered power dynamics within family and society. In contrast with some feminist economists especially in the past, such as Drucilla Barker, Barbara Bergmann, Paula England, and Marianne Ferber, Jacobsen argues that feminist economics is not incompatible with existing traditions in economics; rather it “represents a separate way of thinking about economics that is informed by feminist theory” (15). Henceforth, the author presents her book as a roadmap through the possibilities of applying feminist economics to economic matters; actually this book is an attempt at providing an exhaustive list of both micro and macro topics covered by feminist economics.

3After the first chapter devoted to the definition of feminist economics and some brief historical remarks on its origin, thirteen chapters follow through: each chapter deals with a particular topic, such as labor economics and family structure, or economic growth and development, to name but a few. For each topic, the author offers the perspective of feminist economics. Each chapter is organized roughly along the same lines: the analysis starts from questioning the role of an economic phenomenon accordingly to the feminist economics vision; then emphasis is put on the difference among economic agents who ought not be standardized; finally the author highlights significant contrasts between the feminist and the standard approaches, and she discusses the respective merits of each approach.

4Chapter 2 is devoted to the problem of measuring unpaid household work which is not accounted for in the GDP and has been systematically neglected by the standard economic theory. Given that unpaid housework is still mainly performed by women, a feminist economics approach suggests a proper evaluation of it. Chapters 3 and 4 are devoted to the analysis of the economics of the family in terms of household allocation and intergenerational relationships, as well as in terms of family structure which includes marriage, partnership, fertility and divorce. Feminist economics allows analyzing these topics with a specific focus on the consequences of motherhood, which are especially challenging in a one-parent household, a topic that was central to the work of many feminist economists, such as Barbara Bergmann. Contrary to the standard economic model of the household that mainly relies on cost-benefit analysis, feminist economics considers the influence of social pressure on household members to conform to traditional family structures and practices. The same shift of paradigm from cost-benefit analysis to the role of gendered social norms is adopted by feminist economists when they cope with gender segregation in the workplace and gender wage gap. Furthermore, feminist economics insists on the fundamental role of caring labor and on its overall accepted devaluation and it promotes any possible policy which may be able somehow to include care work in private and public workplaces. On this specific issue, Jacobsen’s point of view reinforces the idea that feminist economics not only must propose a new theoretical approach to the discipline, but also offer an affirmative agenda that leads to improving women’s well-being.

5For readers who are particularly interested in methodological issues, Chapter 5 discusses modeling economic agents in feminist economics: differently from standard economic models, based on homogenous agents, feminist economics emphasizes the possibility of moving beyond gender binary and of incorporating other categories of identification, such as sexual orientation. Feminist economics of macroeconomics issues have been scrutinized too: in particular, the author provides the feminist economics perspective on human development which should include an increase in women’s access to markets and property as well as on an inclusive macroeconomic modeling, which takes into account the way in which fiscal and monetary policy actually affect men and women. Jacobsen insists on the urgency of such a macroeconomics analysis, especially by pointing out the distributional effects of globalization on women.

6The last two chapters are devoted respectively to feminist activism and the role of women within academia. Jacobsen highlights the strong connection between feminist economics and feminism as a cultural phenomenon which played a crucial role in the emergence of the field. Like feminism, which was to change gender constraints within patriarchal societies, feminist economics arose to overcome the pretense of ‘scientific neutrality’ of mainstream economics in order to advocate gender equality. For what concerns the involvement of feminist economics in the educational agenda of either secondary schools or academic curricula, the author insists on the fundamental importance to promote gender-related issues in some curricula at any educational level. Also, she points out how difficult it is for women economists, especially for those who work on heterodox field—such as feminist economics—to “make inroads in the profession” (156). The book ends with some possible ideas for further research in feminist economics: again, it is a sort of list of advice for researchers who want to approach and develop feminist economics as their research field.

7If Jacobsen’s intention was actually to provide an advanced introduction to feminist economics, as the title indicates, her intention has been fulfilled. This is especially true for a target of readers who are already familiar with economic theory and are sympathetic with the feminist perspective. Although the author sometimes takes for granted that the reader is well acquainted with what she is describing, the narrative of the book is helpful to understand the task of feminist economics and to have a glimpse at the differences between feminist economics and standard economics. Furthermore, the book sheds some light on likely affirmative action agenda that feminist economists usually propose. I would add that this book might be intended as a general introduction to feminist economics, and it could be particularly useful for graduate students who are willing to get a general outlook of the main topics in feminist economics in order to eventually choose some issues for their research. The community of feminist economists must be grateful to Jacobsen for her long-life commitment to the field, and this recent book of hers reinforces the gratitude she deserves.

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Becchio, Giandomenica. 2020. A History of Feminist and Gender Economics. London, New York: Routledge.

Feiner Susan, Kuiper Edith, Ott Notburga, Sap Jolande, and Tzannatos Zafiris. 1995. Out of the Margin. Feminist Perspectives on Economics. London, New York: Routledge.

Ferber, Marianne and Nelson, Julie (eds). 1993. Beyond Economic Man: Feminist Theory and Economics. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Jacobsen, Joyce. 2007. The Economics of Gender (3rd edition). Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.

Nelson, Julie. 1996. Feminism, Objectivity and Economics. London, New York: Routledge.

Peterson, Janice and Lewis Margaret (eds). 1999. The Elgar Companion to Feminist Economics. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

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Giandomenica Becchio, « Joyce P. Jacobsen, Advanced Introduction to Feminist Economics »Œconomia, 11-1 | 2021, 231-234.

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Giandomenica Becchio, « Joyce P. Jacobsen, Advanced Introduction to Feminist Economics »Œconomia [En ligne], 11-1 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2021, consulté le 20 juillet 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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