Friday, April 20, 2012

Not Macro but Macho Economics

A leading scholar in the field of feminist economics is calling for more egalitarianism in both the home and the workplace.  Susan Feiner, professor of economics and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine, was the guest speaker at a public presentation on the Bloomsburg University campus last week.  She told a crowded auditorium of students, faculty, and staff that “there’s a macho bargain through the privilege of higher wages for men, who get off the hook when it comes to the responsibilities of the household.”   Feiner traced the phenomena of the nuclear family with the traditional roles of men as breadwinners and women as family caregivers to the 1830s in England and to the 1880s in America.   She said despite cartoon depictions of the Flintstones as a nuclear family with similar assigned roles, it has not always been that way.  Further, Feiner doubts that such division of labor will prevail in a “Jetsons” like future.

Feiner presented a model of labor and consumption that differs slightly from the accepted economic models, noting that the workplace increasingly is occupied by both parents.   Families with both parents working now comprise 64% of all households in America.  Yet as increased costs for housing, food, energy, and transportation send women into the workplace, Feiner says “there is not a commensurate shift in men contributing to the home and caregiving support.”  This imbalance is exacerbated by government cuts to elderly care, day care, and after school programs.  Feiner believes that such support programs are targeted because “macho economics” influence budget decisions.  “Cutbacks in these areas,” Feiner notes, “are based on the belief that there are always enough females to take care of children and elders.”  Feiner pointed out that in Europe, where the 35 hour work week is the norm, men and women are more likely to participate equally in family responsibilities.

How do we change a gender-influenced economy and provide better access to economic stability for both men and women?  Feiner told the audience, “one of the pressing problems is that mass consumption and sustainability are at odds with one another.   We need more socially responsible ways of consumption.  We need to think about what that might look like.”

Feiner is the editor, co-editor or author of publications including Race and Gender in the American EconomyRadical Economics, Out of the Margins, and her most recent book, Liberating Economics: Feminist Perspectives on Families. Here appearance was sponsored by Bloomsburg University’s Department of Economics and the College of Liberal Arts.

--Submitted by Kevin Clark

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