The Comparative Advantage of Sexual Divisions of Labor

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Historical Perspectives on the Comparative Advantage of Sexual Divisions of Labor In modern microeconomic models of the household, one commonly sees a division of labor between the husband and wife predicated on a comparative advantage in the market or the household respectively. The idea is that women are somehow less fit for work in the marketplace while they are innately superior at the domestic tasks of cooking, cleaning, and childrearing. There are two prevailing perspectives on the mechanics of this comparative advantage. The first argues that women are somehow biologically fitted to domestic tasks. This was true for Adam Smith who saw the social structures of society arising out of a biological necessity. Malthus, on the other hand, saw the same biological necessity as operating in opposition to the social structures that arose to keep the pressures of population in check. The second perspective argues that a comparative advantage is a socially constructed idea and not rooted in the biological history of the race. Martineau in her story “Cousin Marshall” delineated the life of what she saw as a virtuous and noble woman. Virginia Woolf, however, decried what she saw as the deplorable poverty of women in A Room of One’s Own. Her solution, however, only served to further separate the spheres of men and women. Finally, Charlotte Perkins Gilman similarly objected to the state of women in Women and Economics and ultimately proposed a society that abolished any division of labor along sexual lines. None of these authors seem to contest the presence of a comparative advantage in the division of labor as their societies stand. However this does not imply that all the authors agreed on the exact features of this... ... middle of paper ... there were no gendered distinctions in defense of women. One could argue that our modern society is a point along the way to attaining Gilman’s utopian solution. More likely, however, we have made little progress and Gilman’s solutions still feel innovative and strange. References Gilman, C (1998). Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press. Malthus, Thomas R (1798). Essay on the Principle of Population [Electronic Version]. Retrieved September 19, 2003, from public/MalPopu.html Martineau, H (1832). Illustrations of Political Economy No. VIII. London: Charles Fox. Smith, A (1766). Lectures on Jurisprudence. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Woolf, V (1929). A Room of One’s Own. London: Harcourt.

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