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  • Isabella Diaz

Feminist economics: An insight into Gender Inequalities

Feminist economics is a school of thought within economics that is mainly focused on tackling gender inequalities while adopting a more comprehensive approach to analysing the economy. In doing so, it critiques other schools of economic thought, such as mainstream neoclassical economics, for their excessive attention to profit maximisation, GDP and overreliance on quantitative models, which often overlook the complexities of the real world. Historically, traditional economic thought has disregarded gender issues, perpetuating a patriarchal way of analysing the economy and creating policies that undervalue and disadvantage women’s roles in economic activity. It has also failed to consider alternative indicators that contribute to a more integral understanding of the economy, in which the well-being of all individuals in society is closely linked to economic growth. For feminist economics, well-being is the ultimate political-economic measure of success efforts. Therefore, through the concept of intersectionality, a term first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to highlight the discrimination and exclusion that Black women faced in America, feminist economics analyses how various social identities, including race, ethnicity, gender and class, influence individuals' access to opportunities and well-being, thereby shaping the overall economy (Berik and Kongar, 2021).


According to a report from The Guardian, across England, areas with a higher proportion of ethnic minorities face significant challenges in accessing GPs. Data from the NHS Digital and census records indicate that even after accounting for factors such as age, sex and health necessities, ethnic minority communities have the lowest number of GPs per person ratios. High ethnic minority areas have 35 GPs per 100.000 patients, which is 15% lower than the 44 GPs per 100.000 patients in the lowest ethnic minority areas in England. In 2023, areas predominantly inhabited by ethnic minorities had 34 fully qualified full-time GPs per 100.000 patients, which is 29% lower than the 48 general practitioners per 100.000 patients serving areas with a majority of white British people. Moreover, inequalities are exacerbated by factors such as deprivation and population density levels, which disproportionately affect ethnic minority groups. These communities are more likely to reside in deprived and densely populated areas compared to the white British population. Poverty is then a key determinant factor influencing health outcomes. The analysis by The Guardian reveals that even after adjusting for variables such as age, sex and health needs, the number of GPs per patient remains 13% lower in the most deprived parts of England compared to the most affluent areas. Similarly, it is 16% lower in the most densely populated regions compared to the least densely populated ones. (Aguilar-García,2024).



All this highlights how the intersectionality of ethnicity and class backgrounds systematically disadvantages ethnic minorities’ access to primary care in England, which is crucial for disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, which are factors of current and future health inequalities. In this context, feminist economics sheds light on systematic biases that marginalise specific groups from their fundamental rights to healthcare. It critiques models like the Carr-Hill formula, which is currently used to allocate funds per patient to each GP practice, for failing to consider how factors like deprivation and ethnicity may impact the health outcomes of specific regions in England and fuel inequalities (Bostock, 2022). When a country's population is not guaranteed equal access to healthcare, the implications to the wider economy include increased spending costs on treating illness, a higher unemployment rate and lower labour productivity, leading to economic sluggishness. Conversely, when a country provides equal healthcare access to its population, the economy flourishes due to a more educated and skilled workforce, enhanced labour productivity and improved living standards for society. Nonetheless, feminist economics underscores how economic growth and individual well-being are intertwined, a dimension often overlooked by mainstream indicators such as GDP.


In addition to intersectionality, feminist economics is concerned with analysing how economic and societal structures disadvantage women and marginalise them from the labour market. This is evident through a series of unpaid work activities such as care work, which is disproportionally taken more by women than men. Additionally, discriminatory laws and practices further obstruct women’s access to employment and top job positions solely based on their gender. According to a report by The Guardian, there is currently no country that provides women with the same opportunities as men in the workforce. This analysis is based on a recent report published by the World Bank, which highlights a widening gender gap globally. The report suggests that closing this gap could potentially raise the global GDP by more than 20% over the next decade. However, reforms to address this issue have been progressing slowly (Ahmed,2024).


The report also argues that factors such as childcare and safety policies have a great impact on women’s participation in the labour market across 190 countries studied. When considering these factors, women, on average, only enjoyed 64% of the legal protections that men do, a decrease from the previous estimate of 77%. Violence can physically prevent women from accessing work, and childcare costs create barriers, particularly for women in lower socioeconomic backgrounds. In most countries, women spend an average of 2.4 more hours per day on unpaid care work than men, with much of it dedicated to caring for children. Therefore, addressing the childcare gap could potentially increase women's participation in the labour force by 1%. However, less than half of the countries have financial support or tax relief for parents of young children. This lack of support specifically impacts women's pension benefits that do not account for periods of work absences due to childcare in 81 of the countries studied. The 10th edition of the Women in Business and Law report found that countries had, on average, established less than 40% of the systems needed to tackle the gender gap between laws and policies. While 95 countries enacted laws on equal pay, only 35 had systems in place to ensure the pay gap was addressed. Globally, women earn just 77 cents of each dollar earned by a man, and this gap extends all the way to retirement. This gap is exacerbated by factors, including the tendency for women to retire early or take time off work to care for children or elderly family members and the prevalence of part-time work due to caregiving responsibilities. Additionally, women’s longer life expectancy, compared to men, means they often accumulate fewer years of full employment, which is associated with smaller pension benefits and greater financial insecurity in their older years (World Bank, 2024).


Feminist economics plays a crucial role in shedding light on already-engrained inequalities within economic systems and advocating for laws and policies that address these issues and provide equal opportunity to children, women, and men alike. By recognising and challenging structural barriers that perpetuate gender disparities in the workforce and beyond, feminist economics strives to create a more equitable and inclusive society for all.


References:


Aguilar-García, C. (2024) Ethnic minorities in England have worse access to GPs. The Guardian [Online]. 15 February. [Accessed 05 May 2024]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2024/feb/15/ethnic-minorities-in-england-have-worse-access-to-gps.


Ahmed, K. (2024) No equality for working women in any country in the world, study reveals. The Guardian [Online]. 5 March. [Accessed 05 May 2024]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2024/mar/05/no-equality-for-working-women-in-any-country-in-the-world-study-reveals-world-bank-gender-gap.


Berik, G. & Kongar, E. (2021) Chapter 1: The social Provisioning Approach in Feminist Economics: The unfolding research. In Berik, G & Kongar, E. (eds). (2021). The Routledge Handbook of Feminist Economics (1st ed.)

Bostock, N. (2022) GP funding formula perpetuates inequality, MPs told [Online]. [Accessed 05 May 2024]. Available at: https://www.gponline.com/gp-funding-formula-perpetuates-inequality-mps-told/article/1749937.

World Bank (2024) New data show massive, wider-than-expected global gender gap [Online]. [Accessed 05 May 2024]. Available at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2024/03/04/new-data-show-massive-wider-than-expected-global-gender-gap#:~:text=In%20the%20area%20of%20pay,retire%20are%20not%20the%20same.


Isabella is a first-year BA (Hons) Economics student at the University of the West of England (UWE) with a keen interest in Behavioral and Feminist Economics. She explores the psychological, cognitive and emotional factors influencing economic choices through Behavioral Economics. Simultaneously, her passion for Feminist Economics allows her to critically examine traditional economic theories and advocate for a more inclusive framework. By integrating these two fields, Isabella aims to understand economic issues better and contribute to more equitable and inclusive outcomes in the future for all members of society.

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