Skip to main content

Gender and Economic Sociology (WP-03-14)

Paula England and Nancy Folbre

This paper concerns the role of gender in the economy, how the conceptual tools of economic sociology help us understand gender in the economy, and how gender studies provide a lens from which to reconsider the boundaries and claims of economic sociology. The authors start with a discussion of what topics economic sociology covers, arguing that subtle gender bias may have caused us to focus on formal organizations and exclude household behavior—and much of the paid care sector—from economic sociology.

If they take a broader view of what the “economy” is, it includes households, the organizations in which people work for pay and from which they purchase goods and services, and the markets in which any of these are embedded. They then discuss the conceptual tool kit usually associated with economic sociology: 1) social networks, 2) culture, norms, and institutions, and 3) critiques of neoclassical economics. They appreciate these tools, but express disappointment that economic sociologists have not taken a more integrative view. They prefer to integrate what is valuable from the rational-choice perspective of economists’ analysis of market phenomena with considerations of networks and institutions, rather than rejecting the economic view whole cloth. They are equally disappointed that economists have taken so little interest in sociologists’ insights.

They apply their integrative view of economic sociology to explain gender differentiation and inequality in paid employment and the household. They consider occupational sex segregation and the sex gap in pay. In the household, they consider couples’ division of labor, power dynamics, and exits from marriages. They also consider the “care sector” that crosscuts the family, paid employment, and the state. They focus on employment and household activities because most gender patterns are rooted in these two venues; most of us spend most of our time on the job and at home.

Paula England, Sociology and Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

Nancy Folbre, Economics, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

Download PDF