IWD 2011: Another Economics is Possible

Stephanie Seguino is Professor of Economics at the University of Vermont, USA. She is a Research Scholar at the Political Economy Research Institute, Associate Editor of Feminist Economics and President at the International Association for Feminist Economics.

On hearing I am an economics professor, people usually groan “that was my worst subject in school.”

Behind that lament, I suspect, lurks the feeling that the economics they studied wasn’t relevant to their lives.

And understandably so.

Mainstream economics operates from an intellectual world that hardly fits the reality of ordinary people. Markets are assumed to be competitive. Decisions are made by people unencumbered by human connection, history, or gender. So little attention is paid to the real struggles we face as humans that many a talented and thoughtful student has made an intellectual escape to sociology.

But I, and many like me, decided not to abandon economics. Instead, we have worked to change the focus and face of the discipline to one that is human-centered, and captures the realities and complexities of our lives. Among those reshaping the boundaries of economics are feminist economists.

Feminist economics explores the concerns of human well-being and social provisioning, reaching beyond the traditional focus on market supply and demand. We investigate how to create the conditions that permit people to provide for themselves and their families with dignity.

In that work, we do not shy away from the fact that markets may not be competitive or optimal. Power matters. People are not always paid what they are worth. Discrimination and bias exist. Decisions are not always economically rational. We lack full information, face competing and conflicting goals, and are swayed by social pressures. And of course, we care – we care for others, and we care what others think.

Feminist economists understand the economic nature of the unpaid work the world’s women perform – the care of children, the sick, and the elderly, and the maintenance of households. Because this work is unpaid, the contributions of many of our citizens, particularly women, are invisible. And yet without it, societies could not function, let alone flourish. Feminist economics analyzes the value of unpaid work, who does it, and at what cost.

This work has begun to leave its mark, reshaping economic theory and influencing policy. With growing numbers from across the globe, feminist economists formed the International Association for Feminist Economics. An increasingly prestigious journal, Feminist Economics, serves as an outlet for path-breaking new research in economics.

Feminist economics has shown that another economics is indeed possible – as rigorous as any mainstream economics approach, but with the added benefit of being relevant and with the potential to help real people live better, more economically secure lives.

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