What are the causes of gender inequality in India?

Lower expenditure by the government on health and education may amplify gender inequality in India

Lower expenditure by the government on health and education may amplify gender inequality in India Image:  REUTERS/Ajay Verma

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The burden of poverty weighs down heavier on girls and women in India than it does on the opposite sex.

An Oxfam report on inequality published in January revealed that in the workplace, women still receive 34% less wages than their male counterparts for the same work.

And as you go further down the social ladder, things get worse.

“When governments reduce their expenditures on essential public services such as education and healthcare, women and girls are the first ones to lose out on these services,” according to the report.

Gender inequality in India: statistics and causes

Girl children from the lower strata of society are lucky to see a classroom at all. In India, girls belonging to families in the top 20% get nine years of education on average, while girls from families in the bottom 20% get none at all. Even those who make it to school are often pulled out when money is tight, the report said. In addition, more than 23 million girls drop out of school annually because of a lack of toilets in school and proper menstrual hygiene management facilities.

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Then, because social norms subject women to domesticity, they often have to stay home and look after the young and the elderly.

Women in India spend around five hours a day on unpaid care work while men devote a mere half an hour on average. “This disproportionate burden of unpaid care work by women means they lose out on opportunities to participate in paid labour or are forced to undertake paid labour leading to their time poverty and loss in well-being,” the report said.

Social norm led women discrimination in India is also to blame for the gender inequality in India

These causes of gender inequality in India create an imbalanced system that leaves women vulnerable. A survey of 1,000 households across the central-Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Uttar Pradesh last year revealed that people thought it was acceptable to criticise and beat women if they slipped up while carrying out unpaid care work. In turn, violence continuously sets women back economically. It’s a vicious cycle of gender inequality in India.

Gender inequality in India statistics: Lack of paid work subjects women to gender based violence

Further up the social ladder, gender inequality in India still persists. Even in India’s elite club of three-comma fortunes, women make a blink-and-miss appearance. “There are only nine women billionaires in the list, constituting just 7.5% of the Indian billionaires,” the report said.

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Gender issues in India: an amalgamation of research

Subscribe to global connection, shamika ravi and shamika ravi former brookings expert, economic advisory council member to the prime minister and secretary - government of india nirupama jayaraman nj nirupama jayaraman.

March 10, 2017

Content from the Brookings Institution India Center is now archived . After seven years of an impactful partnership, as of September 11, 2020, Brookings India is now the Centre for Social and Economic Progress , an independent public policy institution based in India.

The views are of the author(s).

Forty-two years have passed since the United Nations first decided to commemorate March 8 th as International Women’s Day, marking a historical transition in the feminist movement. Gender remains a critically important and largely ignored lens to view development issues across the world. On this past occasion of International Women’s Day 2017, here is an amalgamation of gendered learning outcomes across various crucial themes for public policy in India, emerging from Brookings India’s past research on political economy, financial inclusion and health.

Political Economy

In 2016, India ranked 130 out of 146 in the Gender Inequality Index released by the UNDP.  It is evident that a stronger turn in political discourse is required, taking into consideration both public and private spaces. The normalization of intra-household violence is a huge detriment to the welfare of women. Crimes against women have doubled in the period between 1991 and 2011. NFHS data reports that 37 per cent of married women in India have experienced physical or sexual violence by a spouse while 40 per cent have experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence by a spouse. While current policy discourse recommends employment as a form of empowerment for women, data presents a disturbing correlation between female participation in labour force and their exposure to domestic violence. The NFHS-3 reports that women employed at any time in the past 12 months have a much higher prevalence of violence (39-40 per cent) than women who were not employed (29 per cent). The researchers advocate a multi-faceted approach to women’s empowerment beyond mere labour force participation, taking into consideration extra-household bargaining power.

Read more at: “ Beginning a new conversation on Women ”.

Gender inequality extends across various facets of society. Political participation is often perceived as a key factor to rectify this situation. However, gender bias extends to electoral politics and representative governance as well. The relative difference between male and female voters is the key to understanding gender inequality in politics. While the female voter turnout has been steadily increasing, the number of female candidates fielded by parties has not increased. More women contest as independents, which does not provide the cover for extraneous costs otherwise available when they are part of a political party.

However, women also act as agents of political change for other women. In the Bihar elections in 2005, when re-elections were held, the percentage of female voters had increased from 42.5 to 44.5 per cent while those of male voters declined from 50 to 47 per cent in the interim period of eight months. As a direct result, 37 per cent of the constituencies saw anti-incumbency voting. The average growth rate of women voters was nearly three times in those constituencies where there was a difference in the winning party. District-wise disaggregation of voter registration also supports this hypothesis in the case of Bihar indicating the percolation of the winds of change. This illustration proves that women are no longer under the complete control of the men in their family in terms of electoral participation. The situation is only bound to improve from here. With the introduction of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), vulnerable sections like women now have more freedom of choice in their vote. Further, poll related incidents of violence against women have significantly decreased since the phased introduction of EVMs across multi-level elections in India.

Read more at:

  • Interview on Gender Inequality in Politics
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Extending the conversation to political representation is the next phase in the conversation. Women make up merely 22 per cent of lower houses in parliaments around the world and in India, this number is less than half at 10.8 per cent in the outgoing Lok Sabha. A steady increase in female voter participation has been observed across India, wherein the sex ratio of voters (number of female voters vis-à-vis male) has increased from 715 in the 1960s to 883 in the 2000s. Our studies have shown that women are more likely to contest elections in states with a skewed gender ratio. In the case of more developed states, they seek representation through voting leading to an increase in voter participation.

The situation can be rectified by providing focused reservation for those constituencies with a skewed sex ratio. Reducing the entry costs (largely non-pecuniary in nature – cultural barriers, lack of exposure) for women in order to create a pipeline of female leaders is another solution. These missing women, either as voters or leaders point to the gross negligence of women at all ages.

Read more at: Missing Women in Indian Democracy

Financial Inclusion

In the developing world, women have traditionally been the focus of efforts of financial inclusion. They have proved to be better borrowers (40 per cent of Grameen Bank’s clients were women in 1983. By 2000, the number had risen to 90 per cent) – largely attributed to the fact that they are less mobile as compared to men and more susceptible to peer pressure. However, institutions in microfinance are exposed to the trade-off between market growth and social development since having more female clients lead to the inevitable drip-down of social incentives. As an attempt to overcome this hurdle, a larger role can be played by donors with a gender driven agenda, for the financial inclusion sector will drive the idea further.

Gendered contextualisation of products is highly necessary for microfinance institutions (MFIs) – men and women do not ascribe to choices in a similar fashion. Trends emerging from prior research indicates that when health insurance coverage was held under the MFI sector, by both men and women, women benefited from the coverage only so far as they were the holders and not using spousal status (if their husbands were insured). Thus healthcare seeking behaviour becomes an important factor to be considered in insurance coverage under the MFIs.

The JAM trinity – Jan Dhan Yojana, Aadhar, Mobile – can be used to improve financial inclusion from a gender perspective as well. The metrics to consider would be the number of Jan Dhan accounts held by women, percentage of women holding Aadhar cards and access to mobile connectivity for women.

Read more at: A trade-off between Growth and Social Objectives Exists for Microfinance Institutions

In terms of healthcare focusing on women, the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) and National Health Mission are vital to the policy landscape. The JSY has improved maternal healthcare in India through the emphasis on institutional deliveries. Increase of 22 per cent in deliveries in government hospitals, was mirrored by an 8 per cent decline in childbirth at private hospitals and a 16 per cent decline in childbirth at home. The National Health Mission’s ASHA led to greater awareness and education of pregnant women as well as an increase in institutional maternal and neonatal healthcare. Improved infrastructure for maternal and neo-natal has been observed in community hospitals, in addition to the introduction of ambulance services.

A gendered increase in seek care is observed with a large 13 per cent increase in the number of women who report being sick in the last 15 days, driving the overall reportage. Further, an eight per cent decline in rural women seeking private healthcare, has been reported, while a 58 per cent increase in women seeking hospitalization has been reported. Further disaggregated, the data shows a 75.7 per cent increase for rural women seeking healthcare. The overall increase in usage of public hospitals is almost entirely driven by rural women who saw an increase of 24.6 per cent in utilisation of public hospitals over the 10 years (2004-2014). Our results show that the JSY had a significant, positive impact on overall hospitalisation of women in India. It increased the probability of a woman being hospitalised by approximately 1.3 per cent.

Read more at: Health and Morbidity in India

The healthcare sector in India has largely focused on maternal healthcare for women. The importance of research on mental health has been ignored in policy discourse. The significant relationship that mental health bears on violence has also been explored in further research. Every fifth suicide in India is that of a housewife (18 per cent overall) – the reportage of suicide deaths has been most consistent among housewives as a category, than other categories. India is the country with the largest rate of female deaths due to ‘intentional violence’.

Our work on childhood violence shows that girls are twice more likely to face sexual violence than boys before the age of 18. Larger the population of educated females in the country, lesser is the incidence of childhood violence at home – including lesser violent discipline, physical punishment as well as psychological aggression. Additionally, the lifetime experience of sexual violence by girls is strongly correlated with the adolescent fertility rate in a country. Further, a strong relationship is observed between female experience of sexual violence and female labour force participation within a country. The results show that the higher the labour force participation by women in a country, the higher is the incidence of sexual violence against them. This could be indicative of adverse working conditions within labour markets, and the difficulty of access to labour markets by young women in a country.

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essay on gender inequality in india

Achieving gender equality in India: what works, and what doesn’t

essay on gender inequality in india

Research fellow, United Nations University

Disclosure statement

Smriti Sharma does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

United Nations University provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.

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Discrimination against women and girls is a pervasive and long-running phenomenon that characterises Indian society at every level.

India’s progress towards gender equality, measured by its position on rankings such as the Gender Development Index has been disappointing, despite fairly rapid rates of economic growth .

In the past decade, while Indian GDP has grown by around 6%, there has been a large decline in female labour force participation from 34% to 27%. The male-female wage gap has been stagnant at 50% (a recent survey finds a 27% gender pay gap in white-collar jobs).

Crimes against women show an upward trend , in particular brutal crimes such as rapes, dowry deaths, and honour killings. These trends are disturbing as a natural prediction would be that with growth comes education and prosperity, and a possible decline in adherence to traditional institutions and socially prescribed gender roles that hold women back.

A preference for sons

Cultural institutions in India, particularly those of patrilineality (inheritance through male descendants) and patrilocality (married couples living with or near the husband’s parents), play a central role in perpetuating gender inequality and ideas about gender-appropriate behaviour.

A culturally ingrained parental preference for sons - emanating from their importance as caregivers for parents in old age - is linked to poorer consequences for daughters.

The dowry system, involving a cash or in-kind payment from the bride’s family to the groom’s at the time of marriage, is another institution that disempowers women. The incidence of dowry payment, which is often a substantial part of a household’s income, has been steadily rising over time across all regions and socioeconomic classes.

This often results in dowry-related violence against women by their husbands and in-laws if the dowry is considered insufficient or as a way to demand more payments.

These practices create incentives for parents not to have girl children or to invest less in girls’ health and education. Such parental preferences are reflected in increasingly masculine sex ratios in India . In 2011, there were 919 girls under age six per 1000 boys, despite sex determination being outlawed in India.

This reinforces the inferior status of Indian women and puts them at risk of violence in their marital households. According to the National Family and Health Survey of 2005-06 , 37% of married women have been victims of physical or sexual violence perpetrated by their spouse.

essay on gender inequality in india

Affirmative action

There is clearly a need for policy initiatives to empower women as gender disparities in India persist even against the backdrop of economic growth.

Current literature provides pointers from policy changes that have worked so far. One unique policy experiment in village-level governance that mandated one-third representation for women in positions of local leadership has shown promising results .

Evaluations of this affirmative action policy have found that in villages led by women, the preferences of female residents are better represented, and women are more confident in reporting crimes that earlier they may have considered too stigmatising to bring to attention.

Female leaders also serve as role models and raise educational and career aspirations for adolescent girls and their parents .

Behavioural studies find that while in the short run there is backlash by men as traditional gender roles are being challenged, the negative stereotype eventually disappears . This underscores the importance of sustained affirmative action as a way to reduce gender bias.

Another policy change aimed at equalising land inheritance rights between sons and daughters has been met with a more mixed response . While on the one hand, it led to an increase in educational attainment and age at marriage for daughters, on the other hand, it increased spousal conflict leading to more domestic violence.

Improvements in labour market prospects also have the potential to empower women. An influential randomisation study found that job recruiter visits to villages to provide information to young women led to positive effects on their labour market participation and enrolment in professional training.

This also led to an increase in age at marriage and childbearing, a drop in desired number of children, and an increase in school enrolment of younger girls not exposed to the programme.

Recent initiatives on training and recruiting young women from rural areas for factory-based jobs in cities provide economic independence and social autonomy that they were unaccustomed to in their parental homes.

Getting to parity

For India to maintain its position as a global growth leader, more concerted efforts at local and national levels, and by the private sector are needed to bring women to parity with men.

While increasing representation of women in the public spheres is important and can potentially be attained through some form of affirmative action, an attitudinal shift is essential for women to be considered as equal within their homes and in broader society.

Educating Indian children from an early age about the importance of gender equality could be a meaningful start in that direction.

This is the first of a series of articles in partnership with UNU-WIDER and EconFilms on responding to crises worldwide.

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Press release

Transforming MENtalities and Promoting Gender Equality in India

essay on gender inequality in india

New Delhi, 18 December: Against the background of the global and pervasive epidemic of violence against women, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) organized a Partners’ Dialogue on Engaging Men and Boys for Gender Equality on 18 December 2019, at the UNESCO House, New Delhi.

The Dialogue witnessed the convergence of media, civil society organizations, donor agencies, bi-lateral and multi-lateral organizations, research institutions, and the private sector to discuss the challenges of addressing gender based violence in India and share lessons on engaging men and boys to work for Sustainable Development Goal 5 on Gender Equality.

A UNESCO preliminary stakeholders’ analysis presented during the Dialogue, identifies organizations and interventions working with men and boys across India to transform masculinities. The non-exhaustive analysis highlights the positive impact of campaigns like HeForShe (UnWomen), Mardon Waali Baat (The YP Foundation) and Bell Bajao (Breakthrough India), among many others. This analysis underscores the need for engagement with boys and men to eradicate gender based violence in India. The report further states that the social development ecosystem needs to prioritize the transformation of mentalities among boys and men.

The Dialogue began with academics and thought leaders deliberating on the historical roots and conceptualization of masculinities (i.e. what it is to be a man in a given society), in India. A major barrier highlighted during the dialogue was lack of awareness on these issues together with the lack of alternative models for what it is to be a man, to counter balance the hegemonic or prevailing conception of masculinities, which contribute to gender inequality or violence against women.

Subsequently, civil society and research organizations like the YP Foundation and The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) presented findings of interventions that worked with men to address gender based violence and masculinities. The role of the private sector, multi-lateral bodies and national policy frameworks, was discussed in the final session of the day. 

The Dialogue concluded with the stakeholders identifying priority areas such as educational reforms, shifts in societal values and the role of community leaders. These thus delineates the path to move towards a society where men at the same time do not see their self-realization hindered by stereotypes or social constraints, and are empowered to make positive contributions to a peaceful and prosperous world where men and women can equally thrive.

For further information contact:

Rekha Beri, Public Information ( r.beri@unesco.org ) Nitya Agarwal, Public Information( n.agarwal@unesco.org )

essay on gender inequality in india

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Gender Inequality Essay

500+ words essay on gender inequality.

For many years, the dominant gender has been men while women were the minority. It was mostly because men earned the money and women looked after the house and children. Similarly, they didn’t have any rights as well. However, as time passed by, things started changing slowly. Nonetheless, they are far from perfect. Gender inequality remains a serious issue in today’s time. Thus, this gender inequality essay will highlight its impact and how we can fight against it.

gender inequality essay

  About Gender Inequality Essay

Gender inequality refers to the unequal and biased treatment of individuals on the basis of their gender. This inequality happens because of socially constructed gender roles. It happens when an individual of a specific gender is given different or disadvantageous treatment in comparison to a person of the other gender in the same circumstance.

Get the huge list of more than 500 Essay Topics and Ideas

Impact of Gender Inequality

The biggest problem we’re facing is that a lot of people still see gender inequality as a women’s issue. However, by gender, we refer to all genders including male, female, transgender and others.

When we empower all genders especially the marginalized ones, they can lead their lives freely. Moreover, gender inequality results in not letting people speak their minds. Ultimately, it hampers their future and compromises it.

History is proof that fighting gender inequality has resulted in stable and safe societies. Due to gender inequality, we have a gender pay gap. Similarly, it also exposes certain genders to violence and discrimination.

In addition, they also get objectified and receive socioeconomic inequality. All of this ultimately results in severe anxiety, depression and even low self-esteem. Therefore, we must all recognize that gender inequality harms genders of all kinds. We must work collectively to stop these long-lasting consequences and this gender inequality essay will tell you how.

How to Fight Gender Inequality

Gender inequality is an old-age issue that won’t resolve within a few days. Similarly, achieving the goal of equality is also not going to be an easy one. We must start by breaking it down and allow it time to go away.

Firstly, we must focus on eradicating this problem through education. In other words, we must teach our young ones to counter gender stereotypes from their childhood.

Similarly, it is essential to ensure that they hold on to the very same beliefs till they turn old. We must show them how sports are not gender-biased.

Further, we must promote equality in the fields of labour. For instance, some people believe that women cannot do certain jobs like men. However, that is not the case. We can also get celebrities on board to promote and implant the idea of equality in people’s brains.

All in all, humanity needs men and women to continue. Thus, inequality will get us nowhere. To conclude the gender inequality essay, we need to get rid of the old-age traditions and mentality. We must teach everyone, especially the boys all about equality and respect. It requires quite a lot of work but it is possible. We can work together and achieve equal respect and opportunities for all genders alike.

FAQ of Gender Inequality Essay

Question 1: What is gender inequality?

Answer 1: Gender inequality refers to the unequal and biased treatment of individuals on the basis of their gender. This inequality happens because of socially constructed gender roles. It happens when an individual of a specific gender is given different or disadvantageous treatment in comparison to a person of the other gender in the same circumstance.

Question 2: How does gender inequality impact us?

Answer 2:  The gender inequality essay tells us that gender inequality impacts us badly. It takes away opportunities from deserving people. Moreover, it results in discriminatory behaviour towards people of a certain gender. Finally, it also puts people of a certain gender in dangerous situations.

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In India and many other countries, there is little gap between men and women in attitudes on gender issues

Most Indians support gender equality, but a new Pew Research Center survey finds that traditional gender norms still hold sway for many people in the country. And even though traditional norms tend to give men, rather than women, more prominent roles in several aspects of family and public life, women do not differ substantially from men in their opinions on these issues.

One example is how Indians view interactions between husbands and wives. Asked if they agree with the statement that “a wife must always obey her husband,” women in India (86%) are only slightly less likely than Indian men (89%) to say they either completely or mostly agree.

A chart showing that there are minimal gaps between men and women in India on gender attitudes

Pew Research Center conducted this analysis to find out how men and women in India differ – or don’t – in their views toward gender roles. It is based primarily on the March 2022 report “ How Indians View Gender Roles in Families and Society ,” part of the Center’s most comprehensive, in-depth exploration of Indian public opinion to date. For this report, we  surveyed 29,999 Indian adults  ages 18 and older living in 26 Indian states and three union territories. Many findings from the survey in India were previously published in “ Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation ,” which looked in detail at religious and national identity, religious beliefs and practices, and attitudes among religious communities. Interviews for this nationally representative survey were conducted face-to-face in 17 languages from Nov. 17, 2019, to March 23, 2020.

Respondents were selected using a probability-based sample design, and data was weighted to account for the different probabilities of selection among respondents, and to align with demographic benchmarks for the Indian adult population from the 2011 census.

We also relied on a 2019 survey of 34 countries to provide a global context for the India findings.

For more information on the India survey, read its methodology . Here are the questions used in this analysis.

Here are the questions used for the 34-nation survey, along with its methodology .

A table showing that in many countries, there is little to no gender gap in the shares who say men should sometimes have more rights to a job

This phenomenon, where women are either as likely as or only modestly less likely than men to express traditional attitudes about gender, is not unique to India. In a different survey of 34 countries conducted by Pew Research Center in the spring and summer of 2019, only 11 countries had statistically significant differences between men and women in the shares who say that if jobs are scarce, men should have more rights to employment than women. This included India, where Indian women (76%) were only somewhat less likely than Indian men (81%) to hold this view. In other words, in most of the countries surveyed, women were about as likely as men to favor job preferences for men in times of high unemployment.

Another question on the same 34-country survey asked respondents how important it is for women to have the same rights as men in their country. In most countries surveyed, women are more likely than men to voice support for gender equality, but this pattern is far from universal. In 14 countries, including Brazil and Poland, roughly the same shares of men and women say equal rights for women are very important, and in an additional seven countries, gender gaps on this question are 10 percentage points or less. In India, women (75%) are only modestly more likely than men (70%) to support equal rights for both genders.

Gender differences also are muted when it comes to Indians’ views about relationships between children and their parents. In Indian society, sons historically have been the primary caregivers for aging parents and the main beneficiaries of inheritance. In line with these and other traditions, families have tended to place higher value on – and provide more support to – their sons than their daughters, a set of attitudes and practices known as “ son preference .”

Today, while most Indian adults believe that sons and daughters should have equal responsibility to care for parents as they age, women (37%) are almost as likely as men (40%) to say it is sons who should have the primary responsibility for this. And when asked whether sons or daughters should be primarily responsible for a parent’s last rites or burial rituals, women (62%) are nearly as likely as men (64%) to say it should be sons. In addition, most Indians say sons and daughters should have equal rights to inheritance from their parents, but about a third of both women (33%) and men (34%) say that sons should have greater inheritance rights than daughters.

Against the backdrop of violence against women in India that has attracted both national and international attention, three-quarters of Indian men and women say violence against women is a “very big problem” in their country. The survey also asked respondents whether, to improve the safety of women in their community, it is more important to teach boys to respect all women or to teach girls to behave appropriately.

Around half of the Indian population – including 53% of women and 48% of men – says teaching boys to respect women is more important. But women (24%) are almost as likely as men (27%) to put the onus on women’s own behavior, saying that teaching girls to behave appropriately is the better way to improve women’s safety. Roughly a quarter of both men and women don’t take a clear position on the issue, with some saying both approaches are important, that women are already safe, or that the issue is one of law and order rather than gender norms.

A bar chart showing that about half of Indians favor improving women’s safety by teaching boys to respect women

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Gender Inequality In India

The reality of gender inequality in India is very complex and diversified because it is present in many ways, many fields and many classes. Over the past decade, gender equality and women‘s empowerment have been explicitly recognized as a key to the social and economic development of the nation. Additionally, the promotion of gender equality and empowering of women was one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to which India was a signatory.   This article briefly provides details on the status of women from ancient times to the present century, the article in the constitution empowering women in the domain of governance and strategies for the advancement of women.

Aspirants would find this topic very helpful while preparing for the IAS Exam .

Status of Women – From Ancient India to Present Time Period

  • In ancient India, women were held in high esteem and the position of a woman in the Vedas and the Upanishads was that of a mother (maata) or goddess (Devi). In the early Vedic age, girls were looked after with care.
  • Then practice of polygamy deteriorated the status of woman and in the medieval period, the practices of purdah system, dowry, and sati came into being.
  • With the passage of time, the status of woman was lowered. After the advancements made in relevant science and technology, it led to the misuse by practising female foeticide on a large scale. This has led to a drop in the female ratio. According to the census 2001, the sex ratio in India is 927 females to 1,000 males. Check out the detailed information on the Sex Ratio on the given link. And then dowry has become common and started Female infanticide practices in few areas. Read in detail about Female Foeticide on the linked page.
  • In many parts of India, women are viewed as an economic liability despite contribution in several ways to our society and economy. The crime graph against women is increasing at an alarming rate. The condition of an Indian widow is quite deplorable. Read in detail about the Hindu Widow Remarriage Act on the linked page.
  • At home, the woman’s contribution towards home as a housewife is not recognized.
  • Violence against Women – RSTV Big Picture
  • Protection Of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO)
  • Sexual Harassment at Work Place
  • Right Against Exploitation
  • What is Human Trafficking?
  • Poverty – A Social challenge
  • Caste System
  • At work, the disparity is visible through a different working environment for women, unequal wages, undignified treatment, sexual harassment, higher working hours, engagement in harmful industries, occupational hazards, working roughly twice as many hours as men and a nearly 27 percentage of women are accounted by unpaid activities.
  • Violence against women is also prominent in India. As per some reports every 42 minutes sexual harassment occurs, every 43 minutes a woman is kidnapped and every 93 minutes a woman is burnt for dowry. And by the pre-quarter of reported, rapes involve girls under the age of 16 years. Every 26 minutes a woman is molested and every 34 minutes a rape take place.
  • Vulnerability due to Caste
  • Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections in India
  • Lack of education in women has lead to poor levels of literacy. Read about Rural illiteracy among girls on the given link. Also, read about School education and Literacy on the linked page.
  • The discriminative socialization process is another aspect of inequality towards women which leads to customary practices, more involvement in household activities only (boys not allowed), restricted to play, isolation, separation in schools and public places and restrictions to move freely.
  • Detrimental cultural practices like after marriage husbands dominating the family, dominance from In-laws family, members, never or rarely considered for any decision making, limitations in continuing relationships with brothers, sisters, relatives, child or early marriage, patriarchal attitudes and not able to continue girl or boy friendship after marriage are also contributing factor to the inequality.

Article 243 D – Women Empowerment in the Domain of Governance

In Governance this inequality was visible, after decades of independence. Hence, Article 243 D of the Constitution provides provision of 33 percent reservation for women in the Panchayati Raj Institutions and 33 percent of the office of chairpersons will be reserved for women. Go through the detailed information on Women Empowerment on the linked page.

You may also read about Social Empowerment on the page linked here.

Advancement of Women – Strategies

Strategies for the advancement of women should be

  • Higher literacy,
  • More formal education
  • Greater employment opportunity.

In education, it needs to be reducing primary and secondary dropout of a female child.  Women learners should educate their children which further enhances social advancement.  For better job opportunities reservations could be provided or special provisions. In governance, all rights and all legal measures should be available for women’s protection and support.

FAQ about Gender Inequality In India

What are the major reasons for gender inequality in india, how can we reduce gender inequality in india.

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Gender inequality as a barrier to economic growth: a review of the theoretical literature

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  • Published: 15 January 2021
  • Volume 19 , pages 581–614, ( 2021 )

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essay on gender inequality in india

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In this article, we survey the theoretical literature investigating the role of gender inequality in economic development. The vast majority of theories reviewed argue that gender inequality is a barrier to development, particularly over the long run. Among the many plausible mechanisms through which inequality between men and women affects the aggregate economy, the role of women for fertility decisions and human capital investments is particularly emphasized in the literature. Yet, we believe the body of theories could be expanded in several directions.

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1 Introduction

Theories of long-run economic development have increasingly relied on two central forces: population growth and human capital accumulation. Both forces depend on decisions made primarily within households: population growth is partially determined by households’ fertility choices (e.g., Becker & Barro 1988 ), while human capital accumulation is partially dependent on parental investments in child education and health (e.g., Lucas 1988 ).

In an earlier survey of the literature linking family decisions to economic growth, Grimm ( 2003 ) laments that “[m]ost models ignore the two-sex issue. Parents are modeled as a fictive asexual human being” (p. 154). Footnote 1 Since then, however, economists are increasingly recognizing that gender plays a fundamental role in how households reproduce and care for their children. As a result, many models of economic growth are now populated with men and women. The “fictive asexual human being” is a dying species. In this article, we survey this rich new landscape in theoretical macroeconomics, reviewing, in particular, micro-founded theories where gender inequality affects economic development.

For the purpose of this survey, gender inequality is defined as any exogenously imposed difference between male and female economic agents that, by shaping their behavior, has implications for aggregate economic growth. In practice, gender inequality is typically modeled as differences between men and women in endowments, constraints, or preferences.

Many articles review the literature on gender inequality and economic growth. Footnote 2 Typically, both the theoretical and empirical literature are discussed, but, in almost all cases, the vast empirical literature receives most of the attention. In addition, some of the surveys examine both sides of the two-way relationship between gender inequality and economic growth: gender equality as a cause of economic growth and economic growth as a cause of gender equality. As a result, most surveys end up only scratching the surface of each of these distinct strands of literature.

There is, by now, a large and insightful body of micro-founded theories exploring how gender equality affects economic growth. In our view, these theories merit a separate review. Moreover, they have not received sufficient attention in empirical work, which has largely developed independently (see also Cuberes & Teignier 2014 ). By reviewing the theoretical literature, we hope to motivate empirical researchers in finding new ways of putting these theories to test. In doing so, our work complements several existing surveys. Doepke & Tertilt ( 2016 ) review the theoretical literature that incorporates families in macroeconomic models, without focusing exclusively on models that include gender inequality, as we do. Greenwood, Guner and Vandenbroucke ( 2017 ), in turn, review the theoretical literature from the opposite direction; they study how macroeconomic models can explain changes in family outcomes. Doepke, Tertilt and Voena ( 2012 ) survey the political economy of women’s rights, but without focusing explicitly on their impact on economic development.

To be precise, the scope of this survey consists of micro-founded macroeconomic models where gender inequality (in endowments, constraints, preferences) affects economic growth—either by influencing the economy’s growth rate or shaping the transition paths between multiple income equilibria. As a result, this survey does not cover several upstream fields of partial-equilibrium micro models, where gender inequality affects several intermediate growth-related outcomes, such as labor supply, education, health. Additionally, by focusing on micro-founded macro models, we do not review studies in heterodox macroeconomics, including the feminist economics tradition using structuralist, demand-driven models. For recent overviews of this literature, see Kabeer ( 2016 ) and Seguino ( 2013 , 2020 ). Overall, we find very little dialogue between the neoclassical and feminist heterodox literatures. In this review, we will show that actually these two traditions have several points of contact and reach similar conclusions in many areas, albeit following distinct intellectual routes.

Although the incorporation of gender in macroeconomic models of economic growth is a recent development, the main gendered ingredients of those models are not new. They were developed in at least two strands of literature. First, since the 1960s, “new home economics” has applied the analytical toolbox of rational choice theory to decisions being made within the boundaries of the family (see, e.g., Becker 1960 , 1981 ). Footnote 3 A second literature strand, mostly based on empirical work at the micro level in developing countries, described clear patterns of gender-specific behavior within households that differed across regions of the developing world (see, e.g., Boserup 1970 ). Footnote 4 As we shall see, most of the (micro-founded) macroeconomic models reviewed in this article use several analytical mechanisms from "new home economics”; these mechanisms can typically rationalize several of the gender-specific regularities observed in early studies of developing countries. The growth theorist is then left to explore the aggregate implications for economic development.

The first models we present focus on gender discrimination in (or on access to) the labor market as a distortionary tax on talent. If talent is randomly distributed in the population, men and women are imperfect substitutes in aggregate production, and, as a consequence, gender inequality (as long as determined by non-market processes) will misallocate talent and lower incentives for female human capital formation. These theories do not rely on typical household functions such as reproduction and childrearing. Therefore, in these models, individuals are not organized into households. We review this literature in section 2 .

From there, we proceed to theories where the household is the unit of analysis. In sections 3 and 4 , we cover models that take the household as given and avoid marriage markets or other household formation institutions. This is a world where marriage (or cohabitation) is universal, consensual, and monogamous; families are nuclear, and spouses are matched randomly. The first articles in this tradition model the household as a unitary entity with joint preferences and interests, and with an efficient and centralized decision making process. Footnote 5 These theories posit how men and women specialize into different activities and how parents interact with their children. Section 3 reviews these theories. Over time, the literature has incorporated intra-household dynamics. Now, family members are allowed to have different preferences and interests; they bargain, either cooperatively or not, over family decisions. Now, the theorist recognizes power asymmetries between family members and analyzes how spouses bargain over decisions. Footnote 6 These articles are surveyed in section 4 .

The final set of articles we survey take into account how households are formed. These theories show how gender inequality can influence economic growth and long-run development through marriage market institutions and family formation patterns. Among other topics, this literature has studied ages at first marriage, relative supply of potential partners, monogamy and polygyny, arranged and consensual marriages, and divorce risk. Upon marriage, these models assume different bargaining processes between the spouses, or even unitary households, but they all recognize, in one way or another, that marriage, labor supply, consumption, and investment decisions are interdependent. We review these theories in section 5 .

Table 1 offers a schematic overview of the literature. To improve readability, the table only includes studies that we review in detail, with articles listed in order of appearance in the text. The table also abstracts from models’ extensions and sensitivity checks, and focuses exclusively on the causal pathways leading from gender inequality to economic growth.

The vast majority of theories reviewed argue that gender inequality is a barrier to economic development, particularly over the long run. The focus on long-run supply-side models reflects a recent effort by growth theorists to incorporate two stylized facts of economic development in the last two centuries: (i) a strong positive association between gender equality and income per capita (Fig. 1 ), and (ii) a strong association between the timing of the fertility transition and income per capita (Fig. 2 ). Footnote 7 Models that endogenize a fertility transition are able to generate a transition from a Malthusian regime of stagnation to a modern regime of sustained economic growth, thus replicating the development experience of human societies in the very long run (e.g., Galor 2005a , b ; Guinnane 2011 ). In contrast, demand-driven models in the heterodox and feminist traditions have often argued that gender wage discrimination and gendered sectoral and occupational segregation can be conducive to economic growth in semi-industrialized export-oriented economies. Footnote 8 In these settings—that fit well the experience of East and Southeast Asian economies—gender wage discrimination in female-intensive export industries reduces production costs and boosts exports, profits, and investment (Blecker & Seguino 2002 ; Seguino 2010 ).

figure 1

Income level and gender equality. Income is the natural log of per capita GDP (PPP-adjusted). The Gender Development Index is the ratio of gender-specific Human Development Indexes: female HDI/male HDI. Data are for the year 2000. Sources: UNDP

figure 2

Income level and timing of the fertility transition. Income is the natural log of per capita GDP (PPP-adjusted) in 2000. Years since fertility transition are the number of years between 2000 and the onset year of the fertility decline. See Reher ( 2004 ) for details. Sources: UNDP and Reher ( 2004 )

In most long-run, supply-side models reviewed here, irrespectively of the underlying source of gender differences (e.g., biology, socialization, discrimination), the opportunity cost of women’s time in foregone labor market earnings is lower than that of men. This gender gap in the value of time affects economic growth through two main mechanisms. First, when the labor market value of women’s time is relatively low, women will be in charge of childrearing and domestic work in the family. A low value of female time means that children are cheap. Fertility will be high, and economic growth will be low, both because population growth has a direct negative impact on long-run economic performance and because human capital accumulates at a slower pace (through the quantity-quality trade-off). Second, if parents expect relatively low returns to female education, due to women specializing in domestic activities, they will invest relatively less in the education of girls. In the words of Harriet Martineau, one of the first to describe this mechanism, “as women have none of the objects in life for which an enlarged education is considered requisite, the education is not given” (Martineau 1837 , p. 107). In the long run, lower human capital investments (on girls) lead to slower economic development.

Overall, gender inequality can be conceptualized as a source of inefficiency, to the extent that it results in the misallocation of productive factors, such as talent or labor, and as a source of negative externalities, when it leads to higher fertility, skewed sex ratios, or lower human capital accumulation.

We conclude, in section 6 , by examining the limitations of the current literature and pointing ways forward. Among them, we suggest deeper investigations of the role of (endogenous) technological change on gender inequality, as well as greater attention to the role and interests of men in affecting gender inequality and its impact on growth.

2 Gender discrimination and misallocation of talent

Perhaps the single most intuitive argument for why gender discrimination leads to aggregate inefficiency and hampers economic growth concerns the allocation of talent. Assume that talent is randomly distributed in the population. Then, an economy that curbs women’s access to education, market employment, or certain occupations draws talent from a smaller pool than an economy without such restrictions. Gender inequality can thus be viewed as a distortionary tax on talent. Indeed, occupational choice models with heterogeneous talent (as in Roy 1951 ) show that exogenous barriers to women’s participation in the labor market or access to certain occupations reduce aggregate productivity and per capita output (Cuberes & Teignier 2016 , 2017 ; Esteve-Volart 2009 ; Hsieh, Hurst, Jones and Klenow 2019 ).

Hsieh et al. ( 2019 ) represent the US economy with a model where individuals sort into occupations based on innate ability. Footnote 9 Gender and race identity, however, are a source of discrimination, with three forces preventing women and black men from choosing the occupations best fitting their comparative advantage. First, these groups face labor market discrimination, which is modeled as a tax on wages and can vary by occupation. Second, there is discrimination in human capital formation, with the costs of occupation-specific human capital being higher for certain groups. This cost penalty is a composite term encompassing discrimination or quality differentials in private or public inputs into children’s human capital. The third force are group-specific social norms that generate utility premia or penalties across occupations. Footnote 10

Assuming that the distribution of innate ability across race and gender is constant over time, Hsieh et al. ( 2019 ) investigate and quantify how declines in labor market discrimination, barriers to human capital formation, and changing social norms affect aggregate output and productivity in the United States, between 1960 and 2010. Over that period, their general equilibrium model suggests that around 40 percent of growth in per capita GDP and 90 percent of growth in labor force participation can be attributed to reductions in the misallocation of talent across occupations. Declining in barriers to human capital formation account for most of these effects, followed by declining labor market discrimination. Changing social norms, on the other hand, explain only a residual share of aggregate changes.

Two main mechanisms drive these results. First, falling discrimination improves efficiency through a better match between individual ability and occupation. Second, because discrimination is higher in high-skill occupations, when discrimination decreases, high-ability women and black men invest more in human capital and supply more labor to the market. Overall, better allocation of talent, rising labor supply, and faster human capital accumulation raise aggregate growth and productivity.

Other occupational choice models assuming gender inequality in access to the labor market or certain occupations reach similar conclusions. In addition to the mechanisms in Hsieh et al. ( 2019 ), barriers to women’s work in managerial or entrepreneurial occupations reduce average talent in these positions, resulting in aggregate losses in innovation, technology adoption, and productivity (Cuberes & Teignier 2016 , 2017 ; Esteve-Volart 2009 ). The argument can be readily applied to talent misallocation across sectors (Lee 2020 ). In Lee’s model, female workers face discrimination in the non-agricultural sector. As a result, talented women end up sorting into ill-suited agricultural activities. This distortion reduces aggregate productivity in agriculture. Footnote 11

To sum up, when talent is randomly distributed in the population, barriers to women’s education, employment, or occupational choice effectively reduce the pool of talent in the economy. According to these models, dismantling these gendered barriers can have an immediate positive effect on economic growth.

3 Unitary households: parents and children

In this section, we review models built upon unitary households. A unitary household maximizes a joint utility function subject to pooled household resources. Intra-household decision making is assumed away; the household is effectively a black-box. In this class of models, gender inequality stems from a variety of sources. It is rooted in differences in physical strength (Galor & Weil 1996 ; Hiller 2014 ; Kimura & Yasui 2010 ) or health (Bloom et al. 2015 ); it is embedded in social norms (Hiller 2014 ; Lagerlöf 2003 ), labor market discrimination (Cavalcanti & Tavares 2016 ), or son preference (Zhang, Zhang and Li 1999 ). In all these models, gender inequality is a barrier to long-run economic development.

Galor & Weil ( 1996 ) model an economy with three factors of production: capital, physical labor (“brawn”), and mental labor (“brain”). Men and women are equally endowed with brains, but men have more brawn. In economies starting with very low levels of capital per worker, women fully specialize in childrearing because their opportunity cost in terms of foregone market earnings is lower than men’s. Over time, the stock of capital per worker builds up due to exogenous technological progress. The degree of complementarity between capital and mental labor is higher than that between capital and physical labor; as the economy accumulates capital per worker, the returns to brain rise relative to the returns to brawn. As a result, the relative wages of women rise, increasing the opportunity cost of childrearing. This negative substitution effect dominates the positive income effect on the demand for children and fertility falls. Footnote 12 As fertility falls, capital per worker accumulates faster creating a positive feedback loop that generates a fertility transition and kick starts a process of sustained economic growth.

The model has multiple stable equilibria. An economy starting from a low level of capital per worker is caught in a Malthusian poverty trap of high fertility, low income per capita, and low relative wages for women. In contrast, an economy starting from a sufficiently high level of capital per worker will converge to a virtuous equilibrium of low fertility, high income per capita, and high relative wages for women. Through exogenous technological progress, the economy can move from the low to the high equilibrium.

Gender inequality in labor market access or returns to brain can slow down or even prevent the escape from the Malthusian equilibrium. Wage discrimination or barriers to employment would work against the rise of relative female wages and, therefore, slow down the takeoff to modern economic growth.

The Galor and Weil model predicts how female labor supply and fertility evolve in the course of development. First, (married) women start participating in market work and only afterwards does fertility start declining. Historically, however, in the US and Western Europe, the decline in fertility occurred before women’s participation rates in the labor market started their dramatic increase. In addition, these regions experienced a mid-twentieth century baby boom which seems at odds with Galor and Weil’s theory.

Both these stylized facts can be addressed by adding home production to the modeling, as do Kimura & Yasui ( 2010 ). In their article, as capital per worker accumulates, the market wage for brains rises and the economy moves through four stages of development. In the first stage, with a sufficiently low market wage, both husband and wife are fully dedicated to home production and childrearing. The household does not supply labor to the market; fertility is high and constant. In the second stage, as the wage rate increases, men enter the labor market (supplying both brawn and brain), whereas women remain fully engaged in home production and childrearing. But as men partially withdraw from home production, women have to replace them. As a result, their time cost of childrearing goes up. At this stage of development, the negative substitution effect of rising wages on fertility dominates the positive income effect. Fertility starts declining, even though women have not yet entered the labor market. The third stage arrives when men stop working in home production. There is complete specialization of labor by gender; men only do market work, and women only do home production and childrearing. As the market wage rises for men, the positive income effect becomes dominant and fertility increases; this mimics the baby-boom period of the mid-twentieth century. In the fourth and final stage, once sufficient capital is accumulated, women enter the market sector as wage-earners. The negative substitution effect of rising female opportunity costs dominates once again, and fertility declines. The economy moves from a “breadwinner model” to a “dual-earnings model”.

Another important form of gender inequality is discrimination against women in the form of lower wages, holding male and female productivity constant. Cavalcanti & Tavares ( 2016 ) estimate the aggregate effects of wage discrimination using a model-based general equilibrium representation of the US economy. In their model, women are assumed to be more productive in childrearing than men, so they pay the full time cost of this activity. In the labor market, even though men and women are equally productive, women receive only a fraction of the male wage rate—this is the wage discrimination assumption. Wage discrimination works as a tax on female labor supply. Because women work less than they would without discrimination, there is a negative level effect on per capita output. In addition, there is a second negative effect of wage discrimination operating through endogenous fertility. Since lower wages reduce women’s opportunity costs of childrearing, fertility is relatively high, and output per capita is relatively low. The authors calibrate the model to US steady state parameters and estimate large negative output costs of the gender wage gap. Reducing wage discrimination against women by 50 percent would raise per capita income by 35 percent, in the long run.

Human capital accumulation plays no role in Galor & Weil ( 1996 ), Kimura & Yasui ( 2010 ), and Cavalcanti & Tavares ( 2016 ). Each person is exogenously endowed with a unit of brains. The fundamental trade-off in the these models is between the income and substitution effects of rising wages on the demand for children. When Lagerlöf ( 2003 ) adds education investments to a gender-based model, an additional trade-off emerges: that between the quantity and the quality of children.

Lagerlöf ( 2003 ) models gender inequality as a social norm: on average, men have higher human capital than women. Confronted with this fact, parents play a coordination game in which it is optimal for them to reproduce the inequality in the next generation. The reason is that parents expect the future husbands of their daughters to be, on average, relatively more educated than the future wives of their sons. Because, in the model, parents care for the total income of their children’s future households, they respond by investing relatively less in daughters’ human capital. Here, gender inequality does not arise from some intrinsic difference between men and women. It is instead the result of a coordination failure: “[i]f everyone else behaves in a discriminatory manner, it is optimal for the atomistic player to do the same” (Lagerlöf 2003 , p. 404).

With lower human capital, women earn lower wages than men and are therefore solely responsible for the time cost of childrearing. But if, exogenously, the social norm becomes more gender egalitarian over time, the gender gap in parental educational investment decreases. As better educated girls grow up and become mothers, their opportunity costs of childrearing are higher. Parents trade-off the quantity of children by their quality; fertility falls and human capital accumulates. However, rising wages have an offsetting positive income effect on fertility because parents pay a (fixed) “goods cost” per child. The goods cost is proportionally more important in poor societies than in richer ones. As a result, in poor economies, growth takes off slowly because the positive income effect offsets a large chunk of the negative substitution effect. As economies grow richer, the positive income effect vanishes (as a share of total income), and fertility declines faster. That is, growth accelerates over time even if gender equality increases only linearly.

The natural next step is to model how the social norm on gender roles evolves endogenously during the course of development. Hiller ( 2014 ) develops such a model by combining two main ingredients: a gender gap in the endowments of brawn (as in Galor & Weil 1996 ) generates a social norm, which each parental couple takes as given (as in Lagerlöf 2003 ). The social norm evolves endogenously, but slowly; it tracks the gender ratio of labor supply in the market, but with a small elasticity. When the male-female ratio in labor supply decreases, stereotypes adjust and the norm becomes less discriminatory against women.

The model generates a U-shaped relationship between economic development and female labor force participation. Footnote 13 In the preindustrial stage, there is no education and all labor activities are unskilled, i.e., produced with brawn. Because men have a comparative advantage in brawn, they supply more labor to the market than women, who specialize in home production. This gender gap in labor supply creates a social norm that favors boys over girls. Over time, exogenous skill-biased technological progress raises the relative returns to brains, inducing parents to invest in their children’s education. At the beginning, however, because of the social norm, only boys become educated. The economy accumulates human capital and grows, generating a positive income effect that, in isolation, would eventually drive up parental investments in girls’ education. Footnote 14 But endogenous social norms move in the opposite direction. When only boys receive education, the gender gap in returns to market work increases, and women withdraw to home production. As female relative labor supply in the market drops, the social norm becomes more discriminatory against women. As a result, parents want to invest relatively less in their daughters’ education.

In the end, initial conditions determine which of the forces dominates, thereby shaping long-term outcomes. If, initially, the social norm is very discriminatory, its effect is stronger than the income effect; the economy becomes trapped in an equilibrium with high gender inequality and low per capita income. If, on the other hand, social norms are relatively egalitarian to begin with, then the income effect dominates, and the economy converges to an equilibrium with gender equality and high income per capita.

In the models reviewed so far, human capital or brain endowments can be understood as combining both education and health. Bloom et al. ( 2015 ) explicitly distinguish these two dimensions. Health affects labor market earnings because sick people are out of work more often (participation effect) and are less productive per hour of work (productivity effect). Female health is assumed to be worse than male health, implying that women’s effective wages are lower than men’s. As a result, women are solely responsible for childrearing. Footnote 15

The model produces two growth regimes: a Malthusian trap with high fertility and no educational investments; and a regime of sustained growth, declining fertility, and rising educational investments. Once wages reach a certain threshold, the economy goes through a fertility transition and education expansion, taking off from the Malthusian regime to the sustained growth regime.

Female health promotes growth in both regimes, and it affects the timing of the takeoff. The healthier women are, the earlier the economy takes off. The reason is that a healthier woman earns a higher effective wage and, consequently, faces higher opportunity costs of raising children. When female health improves, the rising opportunity costs of children reduce the wage threshold at which educational investments become attractive; the fertility transition and mass education periods occur earlier.

In contrast, improved male health slows down economic growth and delays the fertility transition. When men become healthier, there is only a income effect on the demand for children, without the negative substitution effect (because male childrearing time is already zero). The policy conclusion would be to redistribute health from men to women. However, the policy would impose a static utility cost on the household. Because women’s time allocation to market work is constrained by childrearing responsibilities (whereas men work full-time), the marginal effect of health on household income is larger for men than for women. From the household’s point of view, reducing the gender gap in health produces a trade-off between short-term income maximization and long-term economic development.

In an extension of the model, the authors endogeneize health investments, while keeping the assumption that women pay the full time cost of childrearing. Because women participate less in the labor market (due to childrearing duties), it is optimal for households to invest more in male health. A health gender gap emerges from rational household behavior that takes into account how time-constraints differ by gender; assuming taste-based discrimination against girls or gender-specific preferences is not necessary.

In the models reviewed so far, parents invest in their children’s human capital for purely altruistic reasons. This is captured in the models by assuming that parents derive utility directly from the quantity and quality of children. This is the classical representation of children as durable consumption goods (e.g., Becker 1960 ). In reality, of course, parents may also have egoistic motivations for investing in child quantity and quality. A typical example is that, when parents get old and retire, they receive support from their children. The quantity and quality of children will affect the size of old-age transfers and parents internalize this in their fertility and childcare behavior. According to this view, children are best understood as investment goods.

Zhang et al. ( 1999 ) build an endogenous growth model that incorporates the old-age support mechanism in parental decisions. Another innovative element of their model is that parents can choose the gender of their children. The implicit assumption is that sex selection technologies are freely available to all parents.

At birth, there is a gender gap in human capital endowment, favoring boys over girls. Footnote 16 In adulthood, a child’s human capital depends on the initial endowment and on the parents’ human capital. In addition, the probability that a child survives to adulthood is exogenous and can differ by gender.

Parents receive old-age support from children that survive until adulthood. The more human capital children have, the more old-age support they provide to their parents. Beyond this egoistic motive, parents also enjoy the quantity and the quality of children (altruistic motive). Son preference is modeled by boys having a higher relative weight in the altruistic-component of the parental utility function. In other words, in their enjoyment of children as consumer goods, parents enjoy “consuming” a son more than “consuming” a girl. Parents who prefer sons want more boys than girls. A larger preference for sons, a higher relative survival probability of boys, and a higher human capital endowment of boys positively affect the sex ratio at birth, because, in the parents’ perspective, all these forces increase the marginal utility of boys relative to girls.

Zhang et al. ( 1999 ) show that, if human capital transmission from parents to children is efficient enough, the economy grows endogenously. When boys have a higher human capital endowment than girls, and the survival probability of sons is not smaller than the survival probability of daughters, then only sons provide old-age support. Anticipating this, parents invest more in the human capital of their sons than on the human capital of their daughters. As a result, the gender gap in human capital at birth widens endogenously.

When only boys provide old-age support, an exogenous increase in son preference harms long-run economic growth. The reason is that, when son preference increases, parents enjoy each son relatively more and demand less old-age support from him. Other things equal, parents want to “consume” more sons now and less old-age support later. Because parents want more sons, the sex ratio at birth increases; but because each son provides less old-age support, human capital investments per son decrease (such that the gender gap in human capital narrows). At the aggregate level, the pace of human capital accumulation slows down and, in the long run, economic growth is lower. Thus, an exogenous increase in son preference increases the sex ratio at birth, and reduces human capital accumulation and long-run growth (although it narrows the gender gap in education).

In summary, in growth models with unitary households, gender inequality is closely linked to the division of labor between family members. If women earn relatively less in market activities, they specialize in childrearing and home production, while men specialize in market work. And precisely due to this division of labor, the returns to female educational investments are relatively low. These household behaviors translate into higher fertility and lower human capital and thus pose a barrier to long-run development.

4 Intra-household bargaining: husbands and wives

In this section, we review models populated with non-unitary households, where decisions are the result of bargaining between the spouses. There are two broad types of bargaining processes: non-cooperative, where spouses act independently or interact in a non-cooperative game that often leads to inefficient outcomes (e.g., Doepke & Tertilt 2019 , Heath & Tan 2020 ); and cooperative, where the spouses are assumed to achieve an efficient outcome (e.g., De la Croix & Vander Donckt 2010 ; Diebolt & Perrin 2013 ). As in the previous section, all of these non-unitary models take the household as given, thereby abstracting from marriage markets or other household formation institutions, which will be discussed separately in section 5 . When preferences differ by gender, bargaining between the spouses matters for economic growth. If women care more about child quality than men do and human capital accumulation is the main engine of growth, then empowering women leads to faster economic growth (Prettner & Strulik 2017 ). If, however, men and women have similar preferences but are imperfect substitutes in the production of household public goods, then empowering women has an ambiguous effect on economic growth (Doepke & Tertilt 2019 ).

A separate channel concerns the intergenerational transmission of human capital and woman’s role as the main caregiver of children. If the education of the mother matters more than the education of the father in the production of children’s human capital, then empowering women will be conducive to growth (Agénor 2017 ; Diebolt & Perrin 2013 ), with the returns to education playing a crucial role in the political economy of female empowerment (Doepke & Tertilt 2009 ).

However, different dimensions of gender inequality have different growth impacts along the development process (De la Croix & Vander Donckt 2010 ). Policies that improve gender equality across many dimensions can be particularly effective for economic growth by reaping complementarities and positive externalities (Agénor 2017 ).

The idea that women might have stronger preferences for child-related expenditures than men can be easily incorporated in a Beckerian model of fertility. The necessary assumption is that women place a higher weight on child quality (relative to child quantity) than men do. Prettner & Strulik ( 2017 ) build a unified growth theory model with collective households. Men and women have different preferences, but they achieve efficient cooperation based on (reduced-form) bargaining parameters. The authors study the effect of two types of preferences: (i) women are assumed to have a relative preference for child quality, while men have a relative preference for child quantity; and (ii) parents are assumed to have a relative preference for the education of sons over the education of daughters. In addition, it is assumed that the time cost of childcare borne by men cannot be above that borne by women (but it could be the same).

When women have a relative preference for child quality, increasing female empowerment speeds up the economy’s escape from a Malthusian trap of high fertility, low education, and low income per capita. When female empowerment increases (exogenously), a woman’s relative preference for child quality has a higher impact on household’s decisions. As a consequence, fertility falls, human capital accumulates, and the economy starts growing. The model also predicts that the more preferences for child quality differ between husband and wife, the more effective is female empowerment in raising long-run per capita income, because the sooner the economy escapes the Malthusian trap. This effect is not affected by whether parents have a preference for the education of boys relative to that of girls. If, however, men and women have similar preferences with respect to the quantity and quality of their children, then female empowerment does not affect the timing of the transition to the sustained growth regime.

Strulik ( 2019 ) goes one step further and endogeneizes why men seem to prefer having more children than women. The reason is a different preference for sexual activity: other things equal, men enjoy having sex more than women. Footnote 17 When cheap and effective contraception is not available, a higher male desire for sexual activity explains why men also prefer to have more children than women. In a traditional economy, where no contraception is available, fertility is high, while human capital and economic growth are low. When female bargaining power increases, couples reduce their sexual activity, fertility declines, and human capital accumulates faster. Faster human capital accumulation increases household income and, as a consequence, the demand for contraception goes up. As contraception use increases, fertility declines further. Eventually, the economy undergoes a fertility transition and moves to a modern regime with low fertility, widespread use of contraception, high human capital, and high economic growth. In the modern regime, because contraception is widely used, men’s desire for sex is decoupled from fertility. Both sex and children cost time and money. When the two are decoupled, men prefer to have more sex at the expense of the number of children. There is a reversal in the gender gap in desired fertility. When contraceptives are not available, men desire more children than women; once contraceptives are widely used, men desire fewer children than women. If women are more empowered, the transition from the traditional equilibrium to the modern equilibrium occurs faster.

Both Prettner & Strulik ( 2017 ) and Strulik ( 2019 ) rely on gender-specific preferences. In contrast, Doepke & Tertilt ( 2019 ) are able to explain gender-specific expenditure patterns without having to assume that men and women have different preferences. They set up a non-cooperative model of household decision making and ask whether more female control of household resources leads to higher child expenditures and, thus, to economic development. Footnote 18

In their model, household public goods are produced with two inputs: time and goods. Instead of a single home-produced good (as in most models), there is a continuum of household public goods whose production technologies differ. Some public goods are more time-intensive to produce, while others are more goods-intensive. Each specific public good can only be produced by one spouse—i.e., time and good inputs are not separable. Women face wage discrimination in the labor market, so their opportunity cost of time is lower than men’s. As a result, women specialize in the production of the most time-intensive household public goods (e.g., childrearing activities), while men specialize in the production of goods-intensive household public goods (e.g., housing infrastructure). Notice that, because the household is non-cooperative, there is not only a division of labor between husband and wife, but also a division of decision making, since ultimately each spouse decides how much to provide of his or her public goods.

When household resources are redistributed from men to women (i.e., from the high-wage spouse to the low-wage spouse), women provide more public goods, in relative terms. It is ambiguous, however, whether the total provision of public goods increases with the re-distributive transfer. In a classic model of gender-specific preferences, a wife increases child expenditures and her own private consumption at the expense of the husband’s private consumption. In Doepke & Tertilt ( 2019 ), however, the rise in child expenditures (and time-intensive public goods in general) comes at the expense of male consumption and male-provided public goods.

Parents contribute to the welfare of the next generation in two ways: via human capital investments (time-intensive, typically done by the mother) and bequests of physical capital (goods-intensive, typically done by the father). Transferring resources to women increases human capital, but reduces the stock of physical capital. The effect of such transfers on economic growth depends on whether the aggregate production function is relatively intensive in human capital or in physical capital. If aggregate production is relatively human capital intensive, then transfers to women boost economic growth; if it is relatively intensive in physical capital, then transfers to women may reduce economic growth.

There is an interesting paradox here. On the one hand, transfers to women will be growth-enhancing in economies where production is intensive in human capital. These would be more developed, knowledge intensive, service economies. On the other hand, the positive growth effect of transfers to women increases with the size of the gender wage gap, that is, decreases with female empowerment. But the more advanced, human capital intensive economies are also the ones with more female empowerment (i.e., lower gender wage gaps). In other words, in settings where human capital investments are relatively beneficial, the contribution of female empowerment to human capital accumulation is reduced. Overall, Doepke and Tertilt’s ( 2019 ) model predicts that female empowerment has at best a limited positive effect and at worst a negative effect on economic growth.

Heath & Tan ( 2020 ) argue that, in a non-cooperative household model, income transfers to women may increase female labor supply. Footnote 19 This result may appear counter-intuitive at first, because in collective household models unearned income unambiguously reduces labor supply through a negative income effect. In Heath and Tan’s model, husband and wife derive utility from leisure, consuming private goods, and consuming a household public good. The spouses decide separately on labor supply and monetary contributions to the household public good. Men and women are identical in preferences and behavior, but women have limited control over resources, with a share of their income being captured by the husband. Female control over resources (i.e., autonomy) depends positively on the wife’s relative contribution to household income. Thus, an income transfer to the wife, keeping husband unearned income constant, raises the fraction of her own income that she privately controls. This autonomy effect unambiguously increases women’s labor supply, because the wife can now reap an additional share of her wage bill. Whenever the autonomy effect dominates the (negative) income effect, female labor supply increases. The net effect will be heterogeneous over the wage distribution, but the authors show that aggregate female labor supply is always weakly larger after the income transfer.

Diebolt & Perrin ( 2013 ) assume cooperative bargaining between husband and wife, but do not rely on sex-specific preferences or differences in ability. Men and women are only distinguished by different uses of their time endowments, with females in charge of all childrearing activities. In line with this labor division, the authors further assume that only the mother’s human capital is inherited by the child at birth. On top of the inherited maternal endowment, individuals can accumulate human capital during adulthood, through schooling. The higher the initial human capital endowment, the more effective is the accumulation of human capital via schooling.

A woman’s bargaining power in marriage determines her share in total household consumption and is a function of the relative female human capital of the previous generation. An increase in the human capital of mothers relative to that of fathers has two effects. First, it raises the incentives for human capital accumulation of the next generation, because inherited maternal human capital makes schooling more effective. Second, it raises the bargaining power of the next generation of women and, because women’s consumption share increases, boosts the returns on women’s education. The second effect is not internalized in women’s time allocation decisions; it is an intergenerational externality. Thus, an exogenous increase in women’s bargaining power would promote economic growth by speeding up the accumulation of human capital across overlapping generations.

De la Croix & Vander Donckt ( 2010 ) contribute to the literature by clearly distinguishing between different gender gaps: a gap in the probability of survival, a wage gap, a social and institutional gap, and a gender education gap. The first three are exogenously given, while the fourth is determined within the model.

By assumption, men and women have identical preferences and ability, but women pay the full time cost of childrearing. As in a typical collective household model, bargaining power is partially determined by the spouses’ earnings potential (i.e., their levels of human capital and their wage rates). But there is also a component of bargaining power that is exogenous and captures social norms that discriminate against women—this is the social and institutional gender gap.

Husbands and wives bargain over fertility and human capital investments for their children. A standard Beckerian result emerges: parents invest relatively less in the education of girls, because girls will be more time-constrained than boys and, therefore, the female returns to education are lower in relative terms.

There are at least two regimes in the economy: a corner regime and an interior regime. The corner regime consists of maximum fertility, full gender specialization (no women in the labor market), and large gender gaps in education (no education for girls). Reducing the wage gap or the social and institutional gap does not help the economy escaping this regime. Women are not in labor force, so the wage gap is meaningless. The social and institutional gap will determine women’s share in household consumption, but does not affect fertility and growth. At this stage, the only effective instruments for escaping the corner regime are reducing the gender survival gap or reducing child mortality. Reducing the gender survival gap increases women’s lifespan, which increases their time budget and attracts them to the labor market. Reducing child mortality decreases the time costs of kids, therefore drawing women into the labor market. In both cases, fertility decreases.

In the interior regime, fertility is below the maximum, women’s labor supply is above zero, and both boys and girls receive education. In this regime, with endogenous bargaining power, reducing all gender gaps will boost economic growth. Footnote 20 Thus, depending on the growth regime, some gender gaps affect economic growth, while others do not. Accordingly, the policy-maker should tackle different dimensions of gender inequality at different stages of the development process.

Agénor ( 2017 ) presents a computable general equilibrium that includes many of the elements of gender inequality reviewed so far. An important contribution of the model is to explicitly add the government as an agent whose policies interact with family decisions and, therefore, will impact women’s time allocation. Workers produce a market good and a home good and are organized in collective households. Bargaining power depends on the spouses’ relative human capital levels. By assumption, there is gender discrimination in market wages against women. On top, mothers are exclusively responsible for home production and childrearing, which takes the form of time spent improving children’s health and education. But public investments in education and health also improve these outcomes during childhood. Likewise, public investment in public infrastructure contributes positively to home production. In particular, the ratio of public infrastructure capital stock to private capital stock is a substitute for women’s time in home production. The underlying idea is that improving sanitation, transportation, and other infrastructure reduces time spent in home production. Health status in adulthood depends on health status in childhood, which, in turn, relates positively to mother’s health, her time inputs into childrearing, and government spending. Children’s human capital depends on similar factors, except that mother’s human capital replaces her health as an input. Additionally, women are assumed to derive less utility from current consumption and more utility from children’s health relative to men. Wives are also assumed to live longer than their husbands, which further down-weights female’s emphasis on current consumption. The final gendered assumption is that mother’s time use is biased towards boys. This bias alone creates a gender gap in education and health. As adults, women’s relative lower health and human capital are translated into relative lower bargaining power in household decisions.

Agénor ( 2017 ) calibrates this rich setup for Benin, a low income country, and runs a series of policy experiments on different dimensions of gender inequality: a fall in childrearing costs, a fall in gender pay discrimination, a fall in son bias in mother’s time allocation, and an exogenous increase in female bargaining power. Footnote 21 Interestingly, despite all policies improving gender equality in separate dimensions, not all unambiguously stimulate economic growth. For example, falling childrearing costs raise savings and private investments, which are growth-enhancing, but increase fertility (as children become ‘cheaper’) and reduce maternal time investment per child, thus reducing growth. In contrast, a fall in gender pay discrimination always leads to higher growth, through higher household income that, in turn, boosts savings, tax revenues, and public spending. Higher public spending further contributes to improved health and education of the next generation. Lastly, Agénor ( 2017 ) simulates the effect of a combined policy that improves gender equality in all domains simultaneously. Due to complementarities and positive externalities across dimensions, the combined policy generates more economic growth than the sum of the individual policies. Footnote 22

In the models reviewed so far, men are passive observers of women’s empowerment. Doepke & Tertilt ( 2009 ) set up an interesting political economy model of women’s rights, where men make the decisive choice. Their model is motivated by the fact that, historically, the economic rights of women were expanded before their political rights. Because the granting of economic rights empowers women in the household, and this was done before women were allowed to participate in the political process, the relevant question is why did men willingly share their power with their wives?

Doepke & Tertilt ( 2009 ) answer this question by arguing that men face a fundamental trade-off. On the one hand, husbands would vote for their wives to have no rights whatsoever, because husbands prefer as much intra-household bargaining power as possible. But, on the other hand, fathers would vote for their daughters to have economic rights in their future households. In addition, fathers want their children to marry highly educated spouses, and grandfathers want their grandchildren to be highly educated. By assumption, men and women have different preferences, with women having a relative preference for child quality over quantity. Accordingly, men internalize that, when women become empowered, human capital investments increase, making their children and grandchildren better-off.

Skill-biased (exogenous) technological progress that raises the returns to education over time can shift male incentives along this trade-off. When the returns to education are low, men prefer to make all decisions on their own and deny all rights to women. But once the returns to education are sufficiently high, men voluntarily share their power with women by granting them economic rights. As a result, human capital investments increase and the economy grows faster.

In summary, gender inequality in labor market earnings often implies power asymmetries within the household, with men having more bargaining power than women. If preferences differ by gender and female preferences are more conducive to development, then empowering women is beneficial for growth. When preferences are the same and the bargaining process is non-cooperative, the implications are less clear-cut, and more context-specific. If, in addition, women’s empowerment is curtailed by law (e.g., restrictions on women’s economic rights), then it is important to understand the political economy of women’s rights, in which men are crucial actors.

5 Marriage markets and household formation

Two-sex models of economic growth have largely ignored how households are formed. The marriage market is not explicitly modeled: spouses are matched randomly, marriage is universal and monogamous, and families are nuclear. In reality, however, household formation patterns vary substantially across societies, with some of these differences extending far back in history. For example, Hajnal ( 1965 , 1982 ) described a distinct household formation pattern in preindustrial Northwestern Europe (often referred to as the “European Marriage Pattern”) characterized by: (i) late ages at first marriage for women, (ii) most marriages done under individual consent, and (iii) neolocality (i.e., upon marriage, the bride and the groom leave their parental households to form a new household). In contrast, marriage systems in China and India consisted of: (i) very early female ages at first marriage, (ii) arranged marriages, and (iii) patrilocality (i.e., the bride joins the parental household of the groom).

Economic historians argue that the “European Marriage Pattern” empowered women, encouraging their participation in market activities and reducing fertility levels. While some view this as one of the deep-rooted factors explaining Northwestern Europe’s earlier takeoff to sustained economic growth (e.g., Carmichael, de Pleijt, van Zanden and De Moor 2016 ; De Moor & Van Zanden 2010 ; Hartman 2004 ), others have downplayed the long-run significance of this marriage pattern (e.g., Dennison & Ogilvie 2014 ; Ruggles 2009 ). Despite this lively debate, the topic has been largely ignored by growth theorists. The few exceptions are Voigtländer and Voth ( 2013 ), Edlund and Lagerlöf ( 2006 ), and Tertilt ( 2005 , 2006 ).

After exploring different marriage institutions, we zoom in on contemporary monogamous and consensual marriage and review models where gender inequality affects economic growth through marriage markets that facilitate household formation (Du & Wei 2013 ; Grossbard & Pereira 2015 ; Grossbard-Shechtman 1984 ; Guvenen & Rendall 2015 ). In contrast with the previous two sections, where the household is the starting point of the analysis, the literature on marriage markets and household formation recognizes that marriage, labor supply, and investment decisions are interlinked. The analysis of these interlinkages is sometimes done with unitary households (upon marriage) (Du & Wei 2013 ; Guvenen & Rendall 2015 ), or with non-cooperative models of individual decision-making within households (Grossbard & Pereira 2015 ; Grossbard-Shechtman 1984 ).

Voigtländer and Voth ( 2013 ) argue that the emergence of the “European Marriage Pattern” is a direct consequence of the mid-fourteen century Black Death. They set up a two-sector agricultural economy consisting of physically demanding cereal farming, and less physically demanding pastoral production. The economy is populated by many male and female peasants and by a class of idle, rent-maximizing landlords. Female peasants are heterogeneous with respect to physical strength, but, on average, are assumed to have less brawn relative to male peasants and, thus, have a comparative advantage in the pastoral sector. Both sectors use land as a production input, although the pastoral sector is more land-intensive than cereal production. All land is owned by the landlords, who can rent it out for peasant cereal farming, or use it for large-scale livestock farming, for which they hire female workers. Crucially, women can only work and earn wages in the pastoral sector as long as they are unmarried. Footnote 23 Peasant women decide when to marry and, upon marriage, a peasant couple forms a new household, where husband and wife both work on cereal farming, and have children at a given time frequency. Thus, the only contraceptive method available is delaying marriage. Because women derive utility from consumption and children, they face a trade-off between earned income and marriage.

Initially, the economy rests in a Malthusian regime, where land-labor ratios are relatively low, making the land-intensive pastoral sector unattractive and depressing relative female wages. As a result, women marry early and fertility is high. The initial regime ends in 1348–1350, when the Black Death kills between one third and half of Europe’s population, exogenously generating land abundance and, therefore, raising the relative wages of female labor in pastoral production. Women postpone marriage to reap higher wages, and fertility decreases—moving the economy to a regime of late marriages and low fertility.

In addition to late marital ages and reduced fertility, another important feature of the “European Marriage Pattern” was individual consent for marriage. Edlund and Lagerlöf ( 2006 ) study how rules of consent for marriage influence long-run economic development. In their model, marriages can be formed according to two types of consent rules: individual consent or parental consent. Under individual consent, young people are free to marry whomever they wish, while, under parental consent, their parents are in charge of arranging the marriage. Depending on the prevailing rule, the recipient of the bride-price differs. Under individual consent, a woman receives the bride-price from her husband, whereas, under parental consent, her father receives the bride-price from the father of the groom. Footnote 24 In both situations, the father of the groom owns the labor income of his son and, therefore, pays the bride-price, either directly, under parental consent, or indirectly, under individual consent. Under individual consent, the father needs to transfer resources to his son to nudge him into marrying. Thus, individual consent implies a transfer of resources from the old to the young and from men to women, relative to the rule of parental consent. Redistributing resources from the old to the young boosts long-run economic growth. Because the young have a longer timespan to extract income from their children’s labor, they invest relatively more in the human capital of the next generation. In addition, under individual consent, the reallocation of resources from men to women can have additional positive effects on growth, by increasing women’s bargaining power (see section 4 ), although this channel is not explicitly modeled in Edlund and Lagerlöf ( 2006 ).

Tertilt ( 2005 ) explores the effects of polygyny on long-run development through its impact on savings and fertility. In her model, parental consent applies to women, while individual consent applies to men. There is a competitive marriage market where fathers sell their daughters and men buy their wives. As each man is allowed (and wants) to marry several wives, a positive bride-price emerges in equilibrium. Footnote 25 Upon marriage, the reproductive rights of the bride are transferred from her father to her husband, who makes all fertility decisions on his own and, in turn, owns the reproductive rights of his daughters. From a father’s perspective, daughters are investments goods; they can be sold in the marriage market, at any time. This feature generates additional demand for daughters, which increases overall fertility, and reduces the incentives to save, which decreases the stock of physical capital. Under monogamy, in contrast, the equilibrium bride-price is negative (i.e., a dowry). The reason is that maintaining unmarried daughters is costly for their fathers, so they are better-off paying a (small enough) dowry to their future husbands. In this setting, the economic returns to daughters are lower and, consequently, so is the demand for children. Fertility decreases and savings increase. Thus, moving from polygny to monogamy lowers population growth and raises the capital stock in the long run, which translates into higher output per capita in the steady state.

Instead of enforcing monogamy in a traditionally polygynous setting, an alternative policy is to transfer marriage consent from fathers to daughters. Tertilt ( 2006 ) shows that when individual consent is extended to daughters, such that fathers do not receive the bride-price anymore, the consequences are qualitatively similar to a ban on polygyny. If fathers stop receiving the bride-price, they save more physical capital. In the long run, per capita output is higher when consent is transferred to daughters.

Grossbard-Shechtman ( 1984 ) develops the first non-cooperative model where (monogamous) marriage, home production, and labor supply decisions are interdependent. Footnote 26 Spouses are modeled as separate agents deciding over production and consumption. Marriage becomes an implicit contract for ‘work-in-household’ (WiHo), defined as “an activity that benefits another household member [typically a spouse] who could potentially compensate the individual for these efforts” (Grossbard 2015 , p. 21). Footnote 27 In particular, each spouse decides how much labor to supply to market work and WiHo, and how much labor to demand from the other spouse for WiHo. Through this lens, spousal decisions over the intra-marriage distribution of consumption and WiHo are akin to well-known principal-agent problems faced between firms and workers. In the marriage market equilibrium, a spouse benefiting from WiHo (the principal) must compensate the spouse producing it (the agent) via intra-household transfers (of goods or leisure). Footnote 28 Grossbard-Shechtman ( 1984 ) and Grossbard ( 2015 ) show that, under these conditions, the ratio of men to women (i.e., the sex ratio) in the marriage market is inversely related to female labor supply to the market. The reason is that, as the pool of potential wives shrinks, prospective husbands have to increase compensation for female WiHo. From the potential wife’s point of view, as the equilibrium price for her WiHo increases, market work becomes less attractive. Conversely, when sex ratios are lower, female labor supply outside the home increases. Although the model does not explicit derive growth implications, the relative increase in female labor supply is expected to be beneficial for economic growth, as argued by many of the theories reviewed so far.

In an extension of this framework, Grossbard & Pereira ( 2015 ) analyze how sex ratios affect gendered savings over the marital life-cycle. Assuming that women supply a disproportionate amount of labor for WiHo (due, for example, to traditional gender norms), the authors show that men and women will have very distinct saving trajectories. A higher sex ratio increases savings by single men, who anticipate higher compensation transfers for their wives’ WiHo, whereas it decreases savings by single women, who anticipate receiving those transfers upon marriage. But the pattern flips after marriage: precautionary savings raise among married women, because the possibility of marriage dissolution entails a loss of income from WiHo. The opposite effect happens for married men: marriage dissolution would imply less expenditures in the future. The higher the sex ratio, the higher will be the equilibrium compensation paid by husbands for their wives’ WiHo. Therefore, the sex ratio will positively affect savings among single men and married women, but negatively affect savings among single women and married men. The net effect on the aggregate savings rate and on economic growth will depend on the relative size of these demographic groups.

In a related article, Du & Wei ( 2013 ) propose a model where higher sex ratios worsen marriage markets prospects for young men and their families, who react by increasing savings. Women in turn reduce savings. However, because sex ratios shift the composition of the population in favor of men (high saving type) relative to women (low saving type) and men save additionally to compensate for women’s dis-saving, aggregate savings increase unambiguously with sex ratios.

In Guvenen & Rendall ( 2015 ), female education is, in part, demanded as insurance against divorce risk. The reason is that divorce laws often protect spouses’ future labor market earnings (i.e., returns to human capital), but force them to share their physical assets. Because, in the model, women are more likely to gain custody of their children after divorce, they face higher costs from divorce relative to their husbands. Therefore, the higher the risk of divorce, the more women invest in human capital, as insurance against a future vulnerable economic position. Guvenen & Rendall ( 2015 ) shows that, over time, divorce risk has increased (for example, consensual divorce became replaced by unilateral divorce in most US states in the 1970s). In the aggregate, higher divorce risk boosted female education and female labor supply.

In summary, the rules regulating marriage and household formation carry relevant theoretical consequences for economic development. While the few studies on this topic have focused on age at marriage, consent rules and polygyny, and the interaction between sex ratios, marriage, and labor supply, other features of the marriage market remain largely unexplored (Borella, De Nardi and Yang 2018 ). Growth theorists would benefit from further incorporating theories of household formation in gendered macro models. Footnote 29

6 Conclusion

In this article, we surveyed micro-founded theories linking gender inequality to economic development. This literature offers many plausible mechanisms through which inequality between men and women affects the aggregate economy (see Table 1 ). Yet, we believe the body of theories could be expanded in several directions. We discuss them below and highlight lessons for policy.

The first direction for future research concerns control over fertility. In models where fertility is endogenous, households are always able to achieve their preferred number of children (see Strulik 2019 , for an exception). The implicit assumption is that there is a free and infallible method of fertility control available for all households—a view rejected by most demographers. The gap between desired fertility and achieved fertility can be endogeneized at three levels. First, at the societal level, the diffusion of particular contraceptive methods may be influenced by cultural and religious norms. Second, at the household level, fertility control may be object of non-cooperative bargaining between the spouses, in particular, for contraceptive methods that only women perfectly observe (Ashraf, Field and Lee 2014 ; Doepke & Kindermann 2019 ). More generally, the role of asymmetric information within the household is not yet explored (Walther 2017 ). Third, if parents have preferences over the gender composition of their offspring, fertility is better modeled as a sequential and uncertain process, where household size is likely endogenous to the sex of the last born child (Hazan & Zoabi 2015 ).

A second direction worth exploring concerns gender inequality in a historical perspective. In models with multiple equilibria, an economy’s path is often determined by its initial level of gender equality. Therefore, it would be useful to develop theories explaining why initial conditions varied across societies. In particular, there is a large literature on economic and demographic history documenting how systems of marriage and household formation differed substantially across preindustrial societies (e.g., De Moor & Van Zanden 2010 ; Hajnal 1965 , 1982 ; Hartman 2004 ; Ruggles 2009 ). In our view, more theoretical work is needed to explain both the origins and the consequences of these historical systems.

A third avenue for future research concerns the role of technological change. In several models, technological change is the exogenous force that ultimately erodes gender gaps in education or labor supply (e.g., Bloom et al. 2015 ; Doepke & Tertilt 2009 ; Galor & Weil 1996 ). For that to happen, technological progress is assumed to be skill-biased, thus raising the returns to education—or, in other words, favoring brain over brawn. As such, new technologies make male advantage in physical strength ever more irrelevant, while making female time spent on childrearing and housework ever more expensive. Moreover, recent technological progress increased the efficiency of domestic activities, thereby relaxing women’s time constraints (e.g., Cavalcanti & Tavares 2008 ; Greenwood, Seshadri and Yorukoglu 2005 ). These mechanisms are plausible, but other aspects of technological change need not be equally favorable for women. In many countries, for example, the booming science, technology, and engineering sectors tend to be particularly male-intensive. And Tejani & Milberg ( 2016 ) provide evidence for developing countries that as manufacturing industries become more capital intensive, their female employment share decreases.

Even if current technological progress is assumed to weaken gender gaps, historically, technology may have played exactly the opposite role. If technology today is more complementary to brain, in the past it could have been more complementary to brawn. An example is the plow that, relative to alternative technologies for field preparation (e.g., hoe, digging stick), requires upper body strength, on which men have a comparative advantage over women (Alesina, Giuliano and Nunn 2013 ; Boserup 1970 ). Another, even more striking example, is the invention of agriculture itself—the Neolithic Revolution. The transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to sedentary agriculture involved a relative loss of status for women (Dyble et al. 2015 ; Hansen, Jensen and Skovsgaard 2015 ). One explanation is that property rights on land were captured by men, who had an advantage on physical strength and, consequently, on physical violence. Thus, in the long view of human history, technological change appears to have shifted from being male-biased towards being female-biased. Endogeneizing technological progress and its interaction with gender inequality is a promising avenue for future research.

Fourth, open economy issues are still almost entirely absent. An exception is Rees & Riezman ( 2012 ), who model the effect of globalization on economic growth. Whether global capital flows generate jobs primarily in female or male intensive sectors matters for long-run growth. If globalization creates job opportunities for women, their bargaining power increases and households trade off child quantity by child quality. Fertility falls, human capital accumulates, and long-run per capita output is high. If, on the other hand, globalization creates jobs for men, their intra-household power increases; fertility increases, human capital decreases, and steady-state income per capita is low. The literature would benefit from engaging with open economy demand-driven models of the feminist tradition, such as Blecker & Seguino ( 2002 ), Seguino ( 2010 ). Other fruitful avenues for future research on open economy macro concern gender analysis of global value chains (Barrientos 2019 ), gendered patterns of international migration (Cortes 2015 ; Cortes & Tessada 2011 ), and the diffusion of gender norms through globalization (Beine, Docquier and Schiff 2013 ; Klasen 2020 ; Tuccio & Wahba 2018 ).

A final point concerns the role of men in this literature. In most theoretical models, gender inequality is not the result of an active male project that seeks the domination of women. Instead, inequality emerges as a rational best response to some underlying gender gap in endowments or constraints. Then, as the underlying gap becomes less relevant—for example, due to skill-biased technological change—, men passively relinquish their power (see Doepke & Tertilt 2009 , for an exception). There is never a male backlash against the short-term power loss that necessarily comes with female empowerment. In reality, it is more likely that men actively oppose losing power and resources towards women (Folbre 2020 ; Kabeer 2016 ; Klasen 2020 ). This possibility has not yet been explored in formal models, even though it could threaten the typical virtuous cycle between gender equality and growth. If men are forward-looking, and the short-run losses outweigh the dynamic gains from higher growth, they might ensure that women never get empowered to begin with. Power asymmetries tend to be sticky, because “any group that is able to claim a disproportionate share of the gains from cooperation can develop social institutions to fortify their position” (Folbre 2020 , p. 199). For example, Eswaran & Malhotra ( 2011 ) set up a household decision model where men use domestic violence against their wives as a tool to enhance male bargaining power. Thus, future theories should recognize more often that men have a vested interest on the process of female empowerment.

More generally, policymakers should pay attention to the possibility of a male backlash as an unintended consequence of female empowerment policies (Erten & Keskin 2018 ; Eswaran & Malhotra 2011 ). Likewise, whereas most theories reviewed here link lower fertility to higher economic growth, the relationship is non-monotonic. Fertility levels below the replacement rate will eventually generate aggregate social costs in the form of smaller future workforces, rapidly ageing societies, and increased pressure on welfare systems, to name a few.

Many theories presented in this survey make another important practical point: public policies should recognize that gender gaps in separate dimensions complement and reinforce one another and, therefore, have to be dealt with simultaneously. A naïve policy targeting a single gap in isolation is unlikely to have substantial growth effects in the short run. Typically, inequalities in separate dimensions are not independent from each other (Agénor 2017 ; Bandiera & Does 2013 ; Duflo 2012 ; Kabeer 2016 ). For example, if credit-constrained women face weak property rights, are unable to access certain markets, and have mobility and time constraints, then the marginal return to capital may nevertheless be larger for men. Similarly, the return to male education may well be above the female return if demand for female labor is low or concentrated in sectors with low productivity. In sum, “the fact that women face multiple constraints means that relaxing just one may not improve outcomes” (Duflo 2012 , p. 1076).

Promising policy directions that would benefit from further macroeconomic research are the role of public investments in physical infrastructure and care provision (Agénor 2017 ; Braunstein, Bouhia and Seguino 2020 ), gender-based taxation (Guner, Kaygusuz and Ventura 2012 ; Meier & Rainer 2015 ), and linkages between gender equality and pro-environmental agendas (Matsumoto 2014 ).

See Echevarria & Moe ( 2000 ) for a similar complaint that “theories of economic growth and development have consistently neglected to include gender as a variable” (p. 77).

A non-exhaustive list includes Bandiera & Does ( 2013 ), Braunstein ( 2013 ), Cuberes & Teignier ( 2014 ), Duflo ( 2012 ), Kabeer ( 2016 ), Kabeer & Natali ( 2013 ), Klasen ( 2018 ), Seguino ( 2013 , 2020 ), Sinha et al. ( 2007 ), Stotsky ( 2006 ), World Bank ( 2001 , 2011 ).

For an in-depth history of “new home economics” see Grossbard-Shechtman ( 2001 ) and Grossbard ( 2010 , 2011 ).

For recent empirical reviews see Duflo ( 2012 ) and Doss ( 2013 ).

Although the unitary approach has being rejected on theoretical (e.g., Echevarria & Moe 2000 ; Folbre 1986 ; Knowles 2013 ; Sen 1989 ) and empirical grounds (e.g., Doss 2013 ; Duflo 2003 ; Lundberg et al. 1997 ), these early models are foundational to the subsequent literature. As it turns out, some of the key mechanisms survive in non-unitary theories of the household.

For nice conceptual perspectives on conflict and cooperation in households see Sen ( 1989 ), Grossbard ( 2011 ), and Folbre ( 2020 ).

The relationship depicted in Fig. 1 is robust to using other composite measures of gender equality (e.g., UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index or OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) (see Branisa, Klasen and Ziegler 2013 )), and other years besides 2000. In Fig. 2 , the linear prediction explains 56 percent of the cross-country variation in per capita income.

See Seguino ( 2013 , 2020 ) for a review of this literature.

The model allows for sorting on ability (“some people are better teachers”) or sorting on occupation-specific preferences (“others derive more utility from working as a teacher”) (Hsieh et al. 2019 , p. 1441). Here, we restrict our presentation to the case where sorting occurs primarily on ability. The authors find little empirical support for sorting on preferences.

Because the home sector is treated as any other occupation, the model can capture, in a reduced-form fashion, social norms on women’s labor force participation. For example, a social norm on traditional gender roles can be represented as a utility premium obtained by all women working on the home sector.

Note, however, that discrimination against women raises productivity in the non-agricultural sector. The reason is that the few women who end up working outside agriculture are positively selected on talent. Lee ( 2020 ) shows that this countervailing effect is modest and dominated by the loss of productivity in agriculture.

This is not the classic Beckerian quantity-quality trade-off because parents cannot invest in the quality of their children. Instead, the mechanism is built by assumption in the household’s utility function. When women’s wages increase relative to male wages, the substitution effect dominates the income effect.

The hypothesis that female labor force participation and economic development have a U-shaped relationship—known as the feminization-U hypothesis—goes back to Boserup ( 1970 ). See also Goldin ( 1995 ). Recently, Gaddis & Klasen ( 2014 ) find only limited empirical support for the feminization-U.

The model does not consider fertility decisions. Parents derive utility from their children’s human capital (social status utility). When household income increases, parents want to “consume” more social status by investing in their children’s education—this is the positive income effect.

Bloom et al. ( 2015 ) build their main model with unitary households, but show that the key conclusions are robust to a collective representation of the household.

This assumption does not necessarily mean that boys are more talented than girls. It can be also interpreted as a reduced-form way of capturing labor market discrimination against women.

Many empirical studies are in line with this assumption, which is rooted in evolutionary psychology. See Strulik ( 2019 ) for references. There are several other evolutionary arguments for men wanting more children (including with different women). See, among others, Mulder & Rauch ( 2009 ), Penn & Smith ( 2007 ), von Rueden & Jaeggi ( 2016 ). However, for a different view, see Fine ( 2017 ).

They do not model fertility decisions. So there is no quantity-quality trade-off.

In their empirical application, Heath & Tan ( 2020 ) study the Hindu Succession Act, which, through improved female inheritance rights, increased the lifetime unearned income of Indian women. Other policies consistent with the model are, for example, unconditional cash transfers to women.

De la Croix & Vander Donckt ( 2010 ) show this with numerical simulations, because the interior regime becomes analytically intractable.

We focus on gender-related policies in our presentation, but the article simulates additional public policies.

Agénor and Agénor ( 2014 ) develop a similar model, but with unitary households, and Agénor and Canuto ( 2015 ) have a similar model of collective households for Brazil, where adult women can also invest time in human capital formation. Since public infrastructure substitutes for women’s time in home production, more (or better) infrastructure can free up time for female human capital accumulation and, thus, endogenously increase wives’ bargaining power.

Voigtländer and Voth ( 2013 ) justify this assumption arguing that, in England, employment contracts for farm servants working in animal husbandry were conditional on celibacy. However, see Edwards & Ogilvie ( 2018 ) for a critique of this assumption.

The bride-price under individual consent need not be paid explicitly as a lump-sum transfer. It could, instead, be paid to the bride implicitly in the form of higher lifetime consumption.

In Tertilt ( 2005 ), all men are similar (except in age). Widespread polygyny is possible because older men marry younger women and population growth is high. This setup reflects stylized facts for Sub-Saharan Africa. It differs from models that assume male heterogeneity in endowments, where polygyny emerges because a rich male elite owns several wives, while poor men remain single (e.g., Gould, Moav and Simhon 2008 ; Lagerlöf 2005 , 2010 ).

See Grossbard ( 2015 ) for more details and extensions of this model and Grossbard ( 2018 ) for a non-technical overview of the related literature. For an earlier application, see Grossbard ( 1976 ).

The concept of WiHo is closely related but not equivalent to the ‘black-box’ term home production used by much of the literature. It also relates to feminist perspectives on care and social reproduction labor (c.f. Folbre 1994 ).

In the general setup, the model need not lead to a corner solution where only one spouse specializes in WiHo.

For promising approaches, see, among others, Cubeddu and Ríos-Rull ( 2003 ), Goussé, Jacquemet and Robin ( 2017 ), Greenwood, Guner, Kocharkov and Santos ( 2016 ), Guler, Guvenen and Violante ( 2012 ), Walther ( 2017 ), Wong ( 2016 ).

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We thank the Editor, Shoshana Grossbard, and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) initiative, a multi-funder partnership between the UK’s Department for International Development, the Hewlett Foundation and the International Development Research Centre. All views expressed here and remaining errors are our own. Manuel dedicates this article to Stephan Klasen, in loving memory.

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Santos Silva, M., Klasen, S. Gender inequality as a barrier to economic growth: a review of the theoretical literature. Rev Econ Household 19 , 581–614 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11150-020-09535-6

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Due to social prejudices, gay couples are still forced to hide their identity.

India’s LGBTQIA+ community notches legal wins but still faces societal hurdles to acceptance, equal rights

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While there has been some recent progress for India’s LGBTQIA+ community, there is still a long way to go to overcome social stigma and prejudice, and to ensure that all people in the country feel their rights are protected, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

UNAIDS , the main advocate for coordinated global action on the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the UN Development Progarmme ( UNDP ) offices in India have been important partners in this effort. 

On this International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), celebrated annually on 17 May, we reflect on the journey of some members of this community in India and shed light on the challenges they are still faced with.

‘All hell broke loose’

Noyonika* and Ishita*, residents of a small town in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, are a lesbian couple working with an organization advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights.

But despite her advocacy role in the community, Noyonika has been unable to muster the courage to tell her own family that she is gay. “Very few people know this,” she says. “My family is very conservative, and it would be unthinkable for [them] to understand that I am gay.”

Noyonika’s partner, Ishita, is Agender (not identifying with any gender, or having a lack of gender). She says that she realized in childhood that she was different from other girls and was attracted to girls rather than boys. But her family is also very conservative, and she has not told her father about her reality.

Twenty-three-year-old Minal* and 27-year-old Sangeeta* have a similar story. The couple are residents of a small village in the northwestern state of Punjab. They now live in a big city and work for a well-regarded company.

Sangeeta said that although her own parents eventually came to terms with the relationship, Minal’s family was extremely opposed to the point of harassing the couple. “All hell broke loose,” said Minal.

“In 2019, we got permission to live together through a court order,” Sangeeta explained, but after this Minal’s family started threatening her over the phone.

“They used to say that they would kill me and put my family in jail. Even my family members were scared of these threats. After that [Minal’s family] kept stalking and harassing us for two to three years,” she said.

Today, Sangeeta and Minal are still struggling to have their relationship legally recognized.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

A trans* activist from Odisha, Sadhana’s commitmentextends beyond administrative circles to actively engage withthe transgender community.

Struggles for acceptance

Heart-rending stories like these can be found across India, where societal prejudices and harassment continue to plague lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex communities.

Sadhna Mishra, a transgender activist from Odisha, runs a community organization called Sakha. As a child, she faced oppression because she was seen as not conforming to societal gender norms. In 2015, she underwent gender confirming surgery and her journey towards her authentic self began.

Recalling the painful days of her childhood, she said, “Because of my femininity, I became a victim of rape again and again. Whenever I used to cry, my mother would ask why, and I would not be able to say anything. I used to ask why people called me Chhakka and Kinnar [transgender or intersex]. My mother would smile and say that’s because you are different and unique.”

It is because of her mother’s faith in her that Sadhna is now active in fighting for the rights of other transgender persons.

Still, she remembers well the hurdles she has faced, like the early days of trying to get launch her organization and the difficulties she had even finding a place for Sakha’s office. People were reluctant to rent space to a transgender person, so Sadhna was forced to work in public places and parks.

Social prejudices

A lack of understanding and intolerance towards the LGBTQIA+ community are similar, whether in larger cities or in rural areas.

Noyonika says that her organization sees many instances where a man is married to a woman because of societal pressure, without understanding his gender identity. “In villages and towns, you will find many married couples who have children and are forced to live a fake life.”

As for the rural areas of Assam where her organization works, Ishita gave the example of a cultural festival Bhavna being celebrated in Naamghars , or places of worship, where dramas based on mythological stories are presented. 

The female characters in these dramas are played mostly by men with feminine characteristics. During festivals they are widely praised, and their feminine characteristics are applauded, but out of the spotlight, they can become victims of harassment.

“They are intimidated, they are sexually exploited, they are molested,” Ishita explained.

A slow path to progress

In recent years, there have been positive legal and policy decisions acknowledging the LGBTQIA+ community in India. This includes the 2014 NALSA (National Legal Service Authority) decision, in which the court upheld everyone's right to identify their own gender and legally recognized hijras and kinnar (transgender persons) as a ‘third gender’. 

In 2018, the application of portions of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code to criminalize private consensual sex between men was ruled unconstitutional by India’s Supreme Court. Further, in 2021, a landmark judgment by the Madras High Court directed the state to provide comprehensive welfare services to the LGBTQIA+ communities.

Over the past 40-plus years, the rainbow Pride flag has become a symbol synonymous with the LGBTQ+ community and its fight for equal rights and acceptance across the globe.

United Nations advocacy

Communication is an important way to foster dialogue and help create a more tolerant and inclusive society, and gradually, perhaps even change mindsets.

To this end, UN Women , in collaboration with India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development, has recently contributed to the development of a gender-inclusive communication guide.

Meanwhile, the UNAIDS and UNDP offices in India are working to assist the LGBTQIA+ community by running awareness and empowerment campaigns, as well as provide those communities with better health and social protection services.

“UNAIDS supports LGBTQ+ people’s leadership in the HIV response and in advocacy for human rights, and is working to tackle discrimination, and to help build inclusive societies where everyone is protected and respected,” said David Bridger, UNAIDS Country Director for India.

He added: “The HIV response has clearly taught all of us that in order to protect everyone’s health, we have to protect everyone’s rights.”

In line with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Organization’s broad commitment to ‘leave no one behind’, UNDP, is working with governments and partners to strengthen laws, policies and programmes that address inequalities and seek to ensure respect for the human rights of LGBTQIA+ people. 

Through the “Being LGBTI in the Asia and the Pacific” programme, UNDP has also implemented relevant regional initiatives.

Opportunities and challenges

UNDP India’s National Programme Manager (Health Systems Strengthening Unit), Dr. Chiranjeev Bhattacharjya said, “At UNDP India, we have been working very closely with the LGBTQI community to advance their rights.” 

Indeed, he continued, there are currently multiple opportunities to support the community due to progressive legal landmarks like the NALSA judgement, decriminalization of same sex relationships (377 IPC) and the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act of 2019 which has raised awareness regarding their development. 

“However, there are implementation challenges which will need multi-stakeholder collaboration and we will continue to work with the community to address them so that we leave no one behind,” he stated.

Even as the Indian legal landscape has inched towards broader inclusion with the repeal of Section 377, the country’s LGBTQIA+ communities are still awaiting recognition – and justice – when dealing with many areas of their everyday lives and interactions, for example: who can be designated 'next of kin' if one partner is hospitalized; can a partner be added to a life insurance policy; or whether legal recognition could be given to gay marriage. 

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Article Contents

Consumer research and value hierarchy, value hierarchy as inequality, a future research agenda, concluding remarks, data collection statement, author notes.

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After 50 Years, It Is Time to Talk about Value Hierarchy and Inequality

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Lez E Trujillo-Torres, Benét DeBerry-Spence, Sonya A Grier, Søren Askegaard, After 50 Years, It Is Time to Talk about Value Hierarchy and Inequality, Journal of Consumer Research , Volume 51, Issue 1, June 2024, Pages 79–90, https://doi.org/10.1093/jcr/ucad040

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This research enriches the field’s perspective on value and argues that to seriously address inequality during the next 50 years, consumer research must explore processual aspects of value hierarchy and consider its relationship to inequality. Doing so recognizes the duality of structures as embodying outcomes and agency, as well as the need to view value not only as what it is but also as what it does. To begin to address limitations in the literature, we use empirical evidence from an investigation of the cancer care market from 1970 to 2021 to understand how value hierarchy shapes and manifests as inequality. This is conceptualized as: distribution of multilevel resources, consolidation of consumer power, stratification of consumer agency, and (de)credentialization of worthiness. Building on each of these, we discuss a research agenda for future JCR inquiries and introduce “value hierarchy as inequality” as a big-tent issue for consumer research.

During the past 50 years, the concept of value has had implications, directly or indirectly, for each and every Journal of Consumer Research ( JCR ) article published. This is because value, defined as a sense of benefit, meaning, or worth of marketplace entities, is critical to consumer decision-making ( Figueiredo and Scaraboto 2016 ; Zeithaml 1988 ). Marketplace entities can encompass concrete actors such as products, people, and institutions and also abstract ideas and causes. Certainly, then, value is a big-tent issue that is central to the development of new consumer behavior topics, given that it is at the core of “what” is being exchanged in a marketing context. But value also entails hierarchization. For example, as the cancer awareness marketing campaign in figure 1 illustrates, not all health consumption experiences are valued the same; rather, inequality permeates markets and many consumer experiences and is “a global issue that defines our time” ( United Nations 2023 ). We argue that to seriously address inequality over the next 50 years, consumer researchers must foreground the often ignored role, functioning, and impact of value hierarchy.

EXAMPLES OF PERCEIVED INEQUALITIES BETWEEN CANCER TYPES BY PANCREATIC CANCER PATIENTS

EXAMPLES OF PERCEIVED INEQUALITIES BETWEEN CANCER TYPES BY PANCREATIC CANCER PATIENTS

Source.— Pancreatic Cancer Action.

We define “value hierarchy” as a structure in which entities are layered according to a value rank or order ( Lenski 1984 ). Our understanding of value hierarchy is informed by structural perspectives of hierarchy and inequality found in organizational studies, in which hierarchy in everyday life plays a crucial role in the formation and reproduction of inequalities ( Bunderson et al 2016 ; Harrison and Klein 2007 ). In marketplaces, for example, consumers value brands, products, or experiences and establish value hierarchy among them ( Moreau, Lehmann, and Markman 2001 ). Inequalities are pronounced differences between marketplace entities ( Crockett and Grier 2021 ; DeBerry-Spence et al. 2023 ), which can limit privileges, opportunities, or resources; hinder market participation; support discriminatory practices; and lead to unequal outcomes ( Poole et al. 2021 ; Trujillo-Torres and DeBerry-Spence 2019 ). As such, hierarchy and inequalities mark imbalances in social arrangements ( Sewell 1992 ) as differences in the social valuation of groups ( Lamont 2012 ) and as moral justifications aligned with higher-order principles ( Boltanski and Thévenot 2006 ).

A structural perspective of value hierarchy is necessary to expose its foundational connections with inequality. Specifically, value hierarchy can result in and unfold as both centralized inequality ( Argote, Turner, and Fichman 1989 ; Harrison and Klein 2007 ) and steep inequality ( Bunderson et al. 2016 ). When centralized, inequality is embedded in the number and type of resources entities receive within a value hierarchy. For example, some consumers have historically received more social and material resources than others ( Poole et al. 2021 ). When steep, inequality is associated with the sheer depth or magnitude differences between entities within a value hierarchy ( Halevy et al. 2012 ; Leonard 1990 ). This is present in studies that note dramatic differences between consumers in power, status, and self-perception ( Bone, Christensen, and Williams 2014 ). These examples in the marketplace are consistent with studies’ findings that centralization and steepness are linked to negative implications. Both can manifest in “competition, differentiation, and (resentful) deviance among some [organizational] unit members” ( Harrison and Klein 2007 , 1206); in conflict ( Bendersky and Hays 2012 ; Bunderson et al. 2016 ); and in enduring discrimination of racial and ethnic groups ( Ray 2019 ). Taken as a whole, a structuralist perspective of hierarchy, then, provides a path for our work, which investigates value hierarchy as inequality. See web appendix A for key constructs summary.

We argue that marketers need to view value hierarchy as a process of inequality (i.e., a means to establish, sustain, and alter inequalities) and as “hierarchy resulting in inequality across valued characteristics or outcomes” ( Bunderson et al. 2016 , 1267). While a robust legacy that examines how consumers shape value in the marketplace exists in consumer research ( Gollnhofer, Weijo, and Schouten 2019 ; Nøjgaard 2023 ; Schau, Muñiz, and Arnould 2009 ; Zeithaml 1988 ), the emphasis is on inequality as solely an outcome of value hierarchy. Thus, theorizing value hierarchy as a process brings to the fore the processual aspects of its relationship to inequalities and moves the field forward to explore the structural relationships of value among entities . These can include the structures that arise and/or are sustained, the resources that are distributed, and the consequences and depth of inequality. Value hierarchy as inequality also recognizes the duality of structures as embodying outcomes and agency, and importantly, it addresses the need to view value not only as what it is but also as what it does. The relevance of this is perhaps obvious, given that value hierarchy implicates and links a multitude of market and social processes, such as legitimation, in which entities change value positions when these become (de)legitimized ( Humphreys 2010 ; Mimoun, Trujillo-Torres, and Sobande 2022 ), and categorization, in which value is assigned and sorted ( Moreau et al. 2001 ).

Our research, therefore, underscores the nascent theoretical conversation about consumers, value hierarchy, and inequality. We argue that value hierarchy shapes and manifests as inequality as distribution of multilevel resources, consolidation of consumer power, stratification of consumer agency, and (de)credentialization of worthiness. We draw empirical evidence demonstrating each of these elements from the context of the cancer care market and the experiences of people with breast, leukemia, or lung cancer from 1970 to 2021. This market, which represents approximately 7% (nearly $209 billion) of all U.S. health expenditures related to diseases ( National Cancer Institute 2020 ), is characterized by value hierarchy with marked inequalities in resources (public, governmental, and medical), product innovation, service provider distribution, and funding ( Wailoo 2010 ). The implications for health services consumption and related consumer experiences are indisputable. As such, it is an ideal context to illustrate value hierarchy as inequality. Details about our context, data collection, and analysis approaches appear in web appendices B and C . We use our conceptualization and the literature as building blocks to identify future research priorities for JCR inquiries.

While the literature on value is extensive, surprisingly, it has paid scant attention to the value hierarchies implicit in marketing and consumer practices, despite strong evidence of consumers’ power and capacity to establish, sustain, and alter value structures. Thus, a structural perspective of value hierarchy can complement and extend the historically prominent position that value and value creation practices have occupied in consumer research. In table 1 , we provide a brief synopsis of the consumer research literature vis-à-vis value hierarchies. For example, consumers, in groups and/or through consumer advocacy organizations, can place or rank entities at different value positions that not only change markets ( Nøjgaard 2023 ) but also influence the distributive process that dictates who gets what within these markets, such as attention, prestige, and power. Similarly, consumer movements can assign greater value to products by devising new value regimes and value flows that alter privilege positions among entities (e.g., wasted food vs. traditional supermarket food; Gollnhofer et al. 2019 ).

SELECT CONSUMER RESEARCH AND VALUE HIERARCHIES

Note.— Illustrative exemplars are not exhaustive and may be relevant to multiple consumer research areas.

Of note, our review reveals that value hierarchy is implicit in much of consumer research and marketing strategy, from specific theoretical perspectives, such as social marketing and segmenting, targeting, and positioning, to academic movements, such as transformative consumer research and Race in the Marketplace. Each of the theoretical areas in table 1 presents broad opportunities to expand the accumulated knowledge on value hierarchy. For example, the value perception and creation literature assigns and sorts value across entities ( Moreau et al. 2001 ), whereas the (de)stigmatization literature adds or removes (de)valuing characteristics ( Eichert and Luedicke 2022 ). Furthermore, value hierarchy is interconnected with core elements of marketing practices, such as segmenting, targeting, and positioning. Diaz Ruiz and Kjellberg (2020 , 431) show that through feral segmentation, consumers “coin customer categories” with differential worth. These consumer research studies are consistent with those that emphasize that value hierarchy is intertwined with “inequality in member power, status, or privilege” ( Bunderson et al. 2016 , 1266) and the perspective that markets create structures of inequality that involve schemas, rules, and social and material resources. This underscores the need to “better understand stability, change, and the institutionalization” ( Ray 2019 , 26) of inequality.

An implication for consumer research is that inequalities are not simply an epiphenomenon of value relationships (i.e., a by-product or tangentially related), but rather structurally co-constitutive of the positions that entities occupy within a value hierarchy. For example, inequalities can create significant drawbacks for consumers ( Trujillo-Torres and DeBerry-Spence 2023 ) and are associated with sociocultural factors such as “age, gender, race, ethnicity, migrant status and disability” ( United Nations 2023 ). These factors can lead to systemic injustices, such as racist and discriminatory practices ( Crockett and Grier 2021 ), or stigmatizing practices ( Wallendorf 2001 ). This is consistent with Ray’s (2019) observation that “racial inequality is not merely ‘in’ organizations but ‘of’ them (48)” and that, correspondingly, “cultural schemas [are] connected to social resources” (30). However, inequalities are not always detrimental. Pronounced differences can reflect consumers’ rankings of preferred products ( Moreau et al. 2001 ), brands ( Schau et al. 2009 ), or people ( Grier and Deshpandé 2001 ) or support competition and market creation ( Gollnhofer et al. 2019 ). Thus, a structural perspective of value hierarchy as inequality suggests that inequalities are not just stand-alone by-products of or distinct from structures and processes.

Taken as a whole, our research acknowledges the need to examine value hierarchy as outcomes and processes and highlights the structural relationships of value among entities. Such an examination can provide greater insight into “who gets what and why” ( Lenski 1984 , 1) and extend understanding of not only what value is but also what value does. Importantly, we make explicit the relationship between value hierarchy and inequalities and address the broader “moral imperative” ( United Nations 2023 ) related to inequality. Collectively, these considerations create a path for marketing scholarship to contribute to this global policy debate.

To begin to address the limitations in the literature, we conceptualize how value hierarchy shapes and manifests as inequality. Building on existing literature and drawing on 50 years’ worth of data from the cancer care market and consumer health care experiences (see table W5 for more examples), we conceptualize value hierarchy as the distribution of multilevel resources, consolidation of consumer power, stratification of consumer agency, and (de)credentialization of worthiness. These elements underscore the outcomes and processual aspects embedded in value hierarchy, consistent with structures as embodying outcomes and agency. Our work highlights the role of structure as a medium and an outcome ( Giddens 1984 ; Sewell 1992 ) and therefore acknowledges the duality of value hierarchy. While we detail each of these independently for analytical purposes, we note that they can co-occur and overlap.

Distribution of Multilevel Resources

The distribution of multilevel resources is when consumers influence the allocation of resources that are situated at multiple levels within a value hierarchy. This can involve consumers linking with a variety of actors to establish, sustain, or change their position within a hierarchy. Resources can vary from the intangible (e.g., social support, knowledge, skills, rules), to the material (e.g., capital, commodities), to any vehicle of power that consumers “[use] to gain, enhance, contest, or maintain” a certain position ( Ray 2019 , 31). As an outcome and a process, the distribution of multilevel resources implicates attributes and actions; that is, it both characterizes observed market inequalities and consumer experiences of resource differences and acts to sustain and (re)create value hierarchies. The distribution of these (i.e., what, to whom, and when) also shapes value hierarchy as inequality by implicating multiple levels of actors and resources, from the micro (e.g., consumer), to the meso (e.g., marketers, market), to the macro (e.g., government, legislation). For example, Huff, Humphreys, and Wilner (2021) show that the legitimacy of cannabis consumption, which implicates an improved position within a value hierarchy, depends on different types of consumers, producers, and the meta market, with the last including regulatory bodies, news media, and public opinion. These micro and macro hierarchical processes are also present in the Black Lives Matter movement, in which consumers marshal resources (e.g., hashtags, its name) to influence positions within a value hierarchy. As might be expected, then, if select entities receive resources (i.e., centralization) that are dramatically different from what others receive within a value hierarchy (i.e., steepness), structural dominance and inequalities are likely to arise over time.

Breast cancer activism illustrates value hierarchy as inequality vis-à-vis the distribution of multilevel resources in the cancer care market. In the 1990s, breast cancer activists, with help from political actors, instituted a new value hierarchy that directed resources (funding, attention) to breast cancer (the disease) and brought attention to and elevated in public discourse these patient experiences. In other words, activists created micro–macro linkages (e.g., Congress “lobby” days and rallies; web appendix C ) that resulted in outcomes such as the dramatic increase in funding in 1993 by the Clinton Administration for breast cancer research and a role in research funding oversight. These efforts also created inequalities in the cancer care market. For example, web appendix D shows that from 1993 to 2018, breast cancer was the highest U.S. government-funded cancer, far ahead of other cancers also with high rates of disease incidences and mortality. Breast cancer also led (followed by leukemia) across many measures of success (e.g., private donations, media coverage) and benefited from micro–meso linkages of consumers with marketers and other market institutions interested in supporting breast cancer and/or the experiences of patients through cause marketing ( Jain 2013 ). Indeed, in 2003, cancer awareness, driven by breast cancer, became the number one health problem in the United States in the national Gallup survey, reflecting another value hierarchy among various health concerns. By contrast, lung cancer had fewer resources, its patients were stigmatized, and patient advocacy was limited, reflecting prejudices against smoking ( Chapple, Ziebland, and McPherson 2004 ).

Consolidation of Consumer Power

The consolidation of consumer power is when consumers concurrently wield power and create outcomes from the mobilization of power. Acknowledging this duality recognizes the ability of consumers to successfully consolidate resources ( Sewell 1992 ) and to achieve certain outcomes. It also opens the door for greater examination of how consumers wield power to create “novel mechanisms” ( Ray 2019 , 35) that reproduce hierarchical relationships as inequality. After all, consumers create or support value hierarchies that differentially grant resources; those who are resource dominant (resource deprived) have significantly more (less) power. In other words, resource distribution involves centralization of power and steepness in power ( Sewell 1992 ), with obvious implications for markets and consumer experiences of inequality. For example, gentrification, in which lower-income residents are replaced with higher-income residents, reflects hierarchical differences with significant power implications for local commercial development and residents, including the power to create a sense of community and racial harmony ( Grier and Perry 2018 ).

Empirical evidence from the cancer care market shows consolidation and use of consumer power in consumer-driven product innovation by leukemia patients and activists. Such is the case of the Team in Training fundraising initiative, a program created in 1988 by a leukemia patient’s father, who raised $322,000 participating in the New York City marathon ( LLS 2023 ). This fundraising initiative showcases athletic humanitarians who self-sacrifice pursuing an athletic goal and a cancer cure, marshaling social and material resources to leukemia institutions, such as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), and leukemia patients. Initiatives such as these catapulted the power of the “patient hero” in public discourse. Not surprising, LLS became one of the most successful fundraising charities in the United States for private donations from 1970 to 2021, far above other cancer charities that represent diseases with higher mortality and incidence rates ( web appendix E ). Team in Training activities were also associated with extensive commercial solidarity and were key enablers of the power leveraged by leukemia organizations ( web appendix F ). As a result, the power of leukemia activism translated into the ability to foster commercially available treatment innovations for various leukemia types with private funding. Leukemia is only second to breast cancer in the number of Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs and treatments (75 and 108, respectively) ( web appendix G ). By contrast, lung cancer in third place has benefited from leukemia and breast cancer drug discoveries and research, showing that dominant entities can also uplift others. This suggests that value hierarchy as inequality may not be as steep among some types of cancer.

Stratification of Consumer Agency

Stratification of consumer agency entails consumers creating categories of entities with distinct levels of agency. This concerns central tenets of value hierarchy; that is, stratification implicates structure and agency and links value hierarchy as inequality that stems from the allocation of consumer agency. Agency involves deliberate action and exercise of subjectivity and free will in making decisions and communicating ( White and Wyn 1998 ), while structure is the organized rules and resources that actors create and reproduce in social interactions and that constitute a social system ( Giddens 1984 ). Agency differentials contribute to inequality processes through the maintenance, reproduction, or disruption of hierarchy. In this way, value hierarchy as inequality can typify the push and pull of structure and agency associated with Giddens’s (1984) theory of structuration. For example, Figueiredo et al. (2015) identify consumer agency as both constrained and fostered. They note that consumers in informal markets exert agency by transgressing the boundaries of formal economies but also acknowledge that respecting consumer agency is not always achievable. This suggests that consumers do not all have the same agency and that consumers’ agencies are not all valued the same.

We turn to the cancer market to empirically demonstrate the stratification of consumer agency. In the 1990s, disease-specific advocacy organizations such as the LLS actively shaped and reproduced notions of agency in leukemia patients, who often faced exclusion, stigma, and discrimination in school, employment, medical access, and other areas ( Wailoo 2010 ). For example, an LLS employee in a 1990 Chicago Tribune article argued for deliberate action and the exercise of free will: “Jeff is a survivor. Years ago, leukemia was a death sentence. But today many more people survive … we're winning the battle in a lot of cases” ( Ogintz 1990 ). Agency here refers to the ability of these patients to seek, access, and employ treatments successfully (e.g., bone marrow transplant, drugs) and communicate success. The active inclusion of leukemia patients in Team in Training activities such as marathons and triathlons complemented these rhetorical efforts. As a patient in remission stated: “You can do anything, if you want it badly enough” ( Willismaon 1994 ). These efforts have led to the reduction of inequalities for leukemia patients by enabling the use of products and technical innovations, reduced mortality, and increased public support (e.g., media coverage, private donations). However, tensions related to who benefits from agency allocations and which patients can enact agency remain. For example, lung cancer patients’ ability to seek treatments has been limited—truncated by changing social conditions (e.g., stigma against smoking, secondhand smoke danger), their perceived culpability, and nonsmoker victimization. Consequently, less public, scientific, and government attention has been given to the disease, patients, and advocacy organizations.

(De)Credentialization of Worthiness

The (de)credentialization of worthiness entails consumers having (or not having) credentials and the process of establishing (removing) credentials within a value hierarchy. In other words, (de)credentialization determines what is worthy within a value hierarchy. This focus is important because credentials and the process of credentialization implicate resources, power, agency, and, correspondingly, inequalities. Thus, credentials and credentialization can bear fewer inequalities (e.g., through inclusion) or more inequalities (e.g., through exclusion). For example, Ray (2019) notes that within organizations, whiteness has been an enduring credential for the allocation of resources, power, and agency to organizational actors, with negative implications (e.g., racism, discrimination) for non-white actors. In consumer research, various credentials of worthiness, from race to gender to class to sexual orientation, pertain to value hierarchy and relatedly inequality ( Mimoun et al. 2022 ).

(De)credentialization of worthiness occurs in the cancer care market. Until the late 2000s, the common credentials to obtain cancer treatments were survivability prospects (usually an early detected cancer) and considerations that often related to patients’ race and socioeconomic status ( Jain 2013 ). Patients with curable cancers and from middle-class and educated backgrounds ( Wailoo 2010 ) had more consumption opportunities than other cancer patients. Then, biomarker matching emerged as a new credential, aligning patients’ biological markers (e.g., proteins, cells, genes, nucleotides) with available therapeutic and preventive options. This decredentialization provided opportunities for patients who had previously experienced significant inequality to seek innovative treatments. This is the case for women with metastatic breast cancers, or “metavivors” whose cancer migrated from the breast to different organs or systems, who often feel excluded, as they are counternormative examples of “cured” early-stage survivors ( Jain 2013 ) and advocate for more attention to their disease and experiences. Though increasing these patients’ visibility, biomarker matching offers no guarantee of longevity (see web appendix H for metavivors’ photos), as only one-third of metastatic breast cancer patients live for at least 5 years, given the lack of treatments ( National Cancer Institute 2020 ). Biomarkers have also rendered visible the “previvors,” who are predisposed to breast and ovarian cancer due to BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes but who are not diagnosed with cancer. Their experiences with preventive cancer surgeries are often legitimized by public figures (e.g., Angelina Jolie) but can be minimized by actual cancer patients. Thus, biomarker matching has created a dynamic decredentialization of worthiness requirements in the cancer care market, removing some inequalities and revealing multiple hierarchies within the breast cancer patient community.

Building on our conceptualization of how value hierarchy both shapes and manifests as inequality as well as the literature, we discuss research areas for future JCR inquiries. Table 2 summarizes these efforts and highlights not only a variety of conceptual domains (consumer research areas) in which our conceptualization can find application but also multiple empirical contexts and questions that would benefit from further exploration.

FUTURE RESEARCH PRIORITIES AND QUESTIONS ON VALUE HIERARCHY AS INEQUALITY

Regarding the distribution of multilevel resources, we encourage the continued examination of how resource distribution can further enable or constrain inequalities in consumer actions, organizations, and outcomes within value hierarchy. Historically, consumer research on value has focused on the micro–meso linkages in markets ( Schau et al. 2009 ; Zeithaml 1988 ), despite evidence that macro-level institutions (e.g., governments, legislation; Humphreys 2010 ) and ideologies ( Giesler and Veresiu 2014 ) are key sources of legitimacy. Moreover, inequality, whether in the marketplace or society, is systemic and institutionalized ( Poole et al. 2021 ), which is evident in studies on race in the marketplace ( Trujillo-Torres and DeBerry-Spence 2023 ). We can therefore also leverage Ray’s (2019) tenets of racialized organizations for the study of consumer value hierarchies. For example, future examinations could investigate the factors that determine the roles of conflict, political considerations, allies, coalitions, and ideologies on the levels and boundaries of resource distribution within value hierarchies in consumer markets. Such research could enrich understanding of how value hierarchy affects the “stability and change” ( Ray 2019 , 30) of inequalities by “accumulating, managing, monopolizing, and apportioning … resources.”

In terms of the consolidation of consumer power, prior research has demonstrated the status games that consumers play to compensate for an underprivileged position in a static value hierarchy ( Rucker and Galinsky 2008 ), but also the variety of ways value orientations can shift through consumer agency. For example, Gollnhofer et al. (2019) showcase the collaboration of consumers with marketers to assign greater value to wasted food by devising alternative “flows of food to waste” that position wasted food as worthy of consumption ( Gollnhofer et al. 2019 , 461), thereby subverting one value hierarchy and (being in the process of) establishing another. Looking ahead, future consumer research on value hierarchy as inequality could investigate how consolidated and consolidating consumer power opens new avenues for consumer-driven innovation and/or collaboration ( Kjeldgaard et al. 2017 ). Scholars might also examine how consumers consolidate and deploy resources from governmental and commercial resources to, for example, resist changes that occur in neighborhoods following urban revitalization that prioritizes some consumers’ interests over others. Moreover, studies on consumer power across gentrifying markets in diverse contexts would be fruitful, as particular market configurations differ given competing ideologies, historical influences, and regulations.

Regarding the stratification of consumer agency, future research could benefit from a greater understanding of the tensions that underlie consumer agency and value hierarchy within markets, societies, and institutions and specifically the tensions that arise when consumers desire to enact agency but are either limited or restricted in their ability to do so. This is the case for “fatshionistas,” who are subject to inequality in terms of product options and consumption opportunities ( Scaraboto and Fischer 2013 ). These consumers exhibit agency by blogging and participating in the Fat Acceptance Movement, but their agency is bound within the logics of the fashion system. Conversely, Adkins and Ozanne (2005) demonstrate how low-literate consumers can mobilize “consumer literacy” through compensating coping skills. Here, value hierarchy is dominant but not hegemonic. Consumer research could also examine how these tensions manifest and, importantly, how they relate to the processes associated with the maintenance and/or reproduction of value hierarchy as inequality.

Future studies could also shed greater light on the stratification of consumer agency by examining periods of destabilization in consumption and markets. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the significance of long-standing health disparities between population groups ( DeBerry-Spence and Trujillo-Torres 2022 ), and thus, research could benefit from a societal-level understanding of value hierarchy, agency allocation, and resource distribution. This underscores the need to realize inequality in agency to identify novel intervention points for transformative consumer research efforts. Such a focus would enhance understanding of how “agency, motive, and action” relate “to resources and cultural schemas” ( Ray 2019 , 35).

Future research on (de)credentialization of worthiness would give the field a better understanding of the dynamism of value hierarchy as inequality, including its stability, change, and institutionalization. For example, Mimoun et al. (2022) identify hierarchical differences based on worthiness credentials that impeded (facilitated) fertility technology consumption. In their study, single women, women over the age of 40, and LGBTQ+ individuals defied the worthiness requirements of those who were considered “good parents”: young, married, heterosexual couples. Importantly, credentialization can be dynamic to reflect changes that alter conceptions of worthiness, such as a changing historical context, power relations, or new systems of thought ( Ray 2019 ). In Mimoun et al. (2022) , for example, developments such as higher rates of female participation in the workforce, higher earnings of women, and changing societal acceptance of sexual identity have decredentialized the old value hierarchy, legitimized consumer segments, and decreased inequalities in this market. Conversely, Nøjgaard (2023) examines the credentialization processes through which value hierarchies are established from “objectifying” value translation processes in a formalized consumer activism setting. Future studies could extend the dynamism of (de)credentialization of worthiness by investigating, in more depth, its intersection with other social processes, such as legitimation and stigmatization, and the transferability or inheritance of credentials over time. Other areas that have received scant research attention include how the valence or neutrality of credentials is (re)constructed and the role of (de)credentialization in market evolution and disruption. These inquiries could further delineate the processes and effects of value hierarchy.

Our research highlights the significance of inequality in markets and the relationship to value hierarchy. Of note, our understanding of value hierarchy infers a “valorization process,” as social hierarchies are not given but are necessarily the outcome of social processes. We introduce the concept “value hierarchy as inequality” and draw from the literature and empirical evidence to conceptualize and demonstrate how value hierarchy shapes and manifests as inequality. Doing so helps move the field forward to comprehend value hierarchy as both an outcome and a process and brings to the fore the structural relationships of value among entities. It also makes clear the need to view value not only as what it is but also as what it does. Our conceptualization is supported by more than 50 years of empirical evidence drawn from the cancer care market. Thus, our work provides a springboard for consumer behavior researchers to pursue more influential scholarship that addresses value hierarchies and their importance for inequality. It also aligns with the global recognition that inequalities are not inconsequential. Thus, we call for future JCR inquiries over the next 50 years to address value hierarchy as inequality.

The first author led the data collection efforts from 2015 to 2021. The archival data were collected from library databases, news media, blogs and social media, and other secondary sources. The authors also conducted observations. The data were analyzed jointly by all authors. The data are currently stored in a project directory on Research Box.

Lez E. Trujillo-Torres ( [email protected] ) is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Illinois Chicago, Chicago, IL 60607, USA.

Benét DeBerry-Spence ( [email protected] ) is a professor of marketing at the University of Illinois Chicago, Chicago, IL 60607, USA.

Sonya A. Grier ( [email protected] ) is a professor at the Department of Marketing, American University, Washington, DC 20016, USA.

Søren Askegaard ( [email protected] ) is a professor at the Department of Business & Management and chair at Danish Institute for Advanced Study (DIAS), University of Southern Denmark, 5230 Odense M, Denmark.

The first two authors contributed equally to this work. This article is based on the first author’s dissertation, which was completed at the University of Illinois Chicago. The authors thank the editor, associate editor, and three reviewers for their support and constructive feedback. The authors report no conflicts of interest. Supplementary materials are included in the web appendix accompanying the online version of this article.

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Marc Hetherington , a political scientist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a co-author of “ Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics ,” has tracked the partisanship of white voters in this country who are in the top 15 percent on measures of support for dictatorial rule.

Replying by email to my inquiry, Hetherington wrote:

In 1992, those whites scoring at the top of the authoritarianism scale split their two-party vote almost evenly between Bush and Clinton (51 to 49). In 2000 and 2004, the difference becomes statistically significant but still pretty small. By 2012, those high-authoritarianism white voters went 68 to 32 for Romney over Obama. In both Trump elections it was 80 to 20 among those voters. So from 50 Republican-50 Democrat to 80 Republican-20 Democrat in the space of 24 years.

The parallel pattern of conflicting values and priorities that has emerged between nations is the focus of a paper published last month, “ Worldwide Divergence of Values ” by Joshua Conrad Jackson and Dan Medvedev , both at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. The two authors analyzed data from seven studies conducted by the World Values Survey in 76 countries between 1981 and 2022.

Jackson and Medvedev found that over those years, “Values emphasizing tolerance and self-expression have diverged most sharply, especially between high-income Western countries and the rest of the world” and characterized this split as a clash between “emancipatory” values and values of “obedience.”

I asked Medvedev whether authoritarianism represents the antithesis of a regime based on emancipatory principles, and he wrote back, “It certainly does seem that authoritarian regimes tend to reject values that we categorize as emancipative.”

He said he would prefer to use the word “traditional” but “that’s just my preference — I don’t think it’s incorrect to use ‘authoritarian.’”

Jackson and Medvedev found that “the rate of value divergence” could be determined using seven questions producing “the highest divergence scores.” Those were:

(1) justifiability of homosexuality, (2) justifiability of euthanasia, (3) importance of obedience of children, (4) justifiability of divorce, (5) justifiability of prostitution, (6) justifiability of suicide and (7) justifiability of abortion.

I wrote Jackson and Medvedev, asking about this divergence:

There has been a lot of speculation lately about new global divide pitting democracies led by the United States against a coalition including China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. Does this divide show up in your data on values differences between countries? Are there values differences between democratic countries and autocratic countries?

“The short answer is yes,” Jackson and Medvedev wrote back and provided a detailed analysis in support of their reply.

Their data shows that the citizens in authoritarian countries tend to “believe that homosexuality and divorce are not justifiable” while those living in the United States, Japan, Germany and Canada “tend to believe that homosexuality and divorce are justifiable and disagree that obedience is an important value to teach their children.”

More important, Jackson and Medvedev found that over those years, Russia, China and Iran have moved in an increasingly authoritarian direction while the democratic countries have moved in an emancipatory direction.

“These cultural differences were not always so stark; they have emerged over time,” Jackson and Medvedev wrote. “These two groups of countries are sorting in their emancipative values over time. For example, Russia and the United States used to be quite similar in their values, but now the United States is closer to Germany in its values, and Russia is closer to Iran.”

There is a debate among scholars of politics over the level of centrality that authoritarianism warrants and the forces that have elevated its salience, especially in American politics, where high levels of authoritarianism are increasingly linked to allegiance to the Republican Party.

What is clear is that authoritarianism has become an entrenched factor in partisan divisions, in global conflicts between nations and in the politics of diversity and race.

Rachel Kleinfeld , a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment, wrote that the embedded character of authoritarianism in America “is like a barnacle attached to our affective polarization, a side effect of a political realignment being run through the uniquely polarizing effects of our first-past-the-post, winner-take-all system and primary structure.”

In an email, Kleinfeld argued that the Great Recession played a pivotal role in stressing the importance of authoritarianism in American politics:

In 2008, the financial crisis created a great deal of anger and a desire for more government intervention. At the same time, an identity revolution was taking place in which group identity gained increased salience, especially in America. Together these movements opened space for a political realignment: a long-dissatisfied group of voters who were pro-economic redistribution, but only to their “deserving” group, found political voice. These “more for me, less for thee” voters who hold left-wing redistributive economic ideas and socially conservative views formed Trump’s primary base in 2016, and moved firmly into the Republican camp in 2020.

The two-party system in the United States, Kleinfeld contended, strengthens authoritarianism by failing to provide a vehicle specifically dedicated to the agenda of the disgruntled electorate. As a result, these voters turned en masse in 2016 to an autocratic leader, Donald Trump, who, in his own words, became their “ retribution .”

This newly mobilized, angry electorate, Kleinfeld continued, is “not choosing the antidemocratic behavior — they are choosing their tribe, and the behavior comes with it. Authoritarian behavior is happening in America, not in Europe, because of our political structures.”

In support of her argument, Kleinfeld cited a January report issued by the Democracy Fund, “ Democracy Hypocrisy : Examining America’s Fragile Democratic Convictions,” that shows how Americans can endorse democratic principles and simultaneously support autocratic behavior by fellow partisans.

Among the report’s conclusions:

While a vast majority of Americans claimed to support democracy (more than 80 percent said democracy is a fairly or very good political system in surveys from 2017 to 2022), fewer than half consistently and uniformly supported democratic norms across multiple surveys.

Support for democratic norms softened considerably when they conflicted with partisanship. For example, a solid majority of Trump and Biden supporters who rejected the idea of a “strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with Congress and elections” nonetheless said their preferred U.S. president would be justified in taking unilateral action without explicit constitutional authority under several different scenarios.

About 27 percent of Americans consistently and uniformly supported democratic norms in a battery of questions across multiple survey waves, including 45 percent of Democrats, 13 percent of Republicans and 18 percent of independents.

In contrast to an overwhelming and consistent rejection of political violence across four survey waves, the violent events of Jan. 6, 2021, were viewed favorably by many Republicans. Almost half of Republicans (46 percent) described these events as acts of patriotism, and 72 percent disapproved of the House select committee that was formed to investigate them.

While much of the focus on authoritarianism in the United States has been on Republican voters, it is also a powerful force in the Democratic electorate.

In their 2018 paper “ A Tale of Two Democrats : How Authoritarianism Divides the Democratic Party,” five political scientists — Julie Wronski , Alexa Bankert , Karyn Amira , April A. Johnson and Lindsey C. Levitan — found that in 2016 “authoritarianism consistently predicts differences in primary voting among Democrats, particularly support for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.” More specifically, “as a Democrat in the Cooperative Election Study survey sample moves from the minimum value on the authoritarianism scale to the maximum value, the probability of voting for Clinton increases from 0.33 to 0.76.”

Wronski and her colleagues determined that “Republicans are significantly more authoritarian than Democrats” but “the variation in authoritarianism is significantly higher among Democrats than Republicans.” Put another way: The level of authoritarianism among the top half of Democrats is almost the same as it is among Republicans; the bottom half of Democrats demonstrates lower levels of authoritarianism than all Republicans.

One of the more intriguing discoveries is that growing racial diversity activates authoritarianism.

In their 2017 article “ Racial Diversity and the Dynamics of Authoritarianism ,” Yamil Ricardo Velez and Howard Lavine , political scientists at Yale and the University of Minnesota, determined that racial diversity “magnifies the political impact of individual differences in the psychological disposition of authoritarianism.”

“In white areas with minimal diversity, authoritarianism had no impact on racial prejudice, political intolerance and attitudes toward immigration,” they wrote. “As diversity rises, however, authoritarianism plays an increasingly dominant role in political judgment. In diverse environments, authoritarians become more racially, ethnically and politically intolerant and nonauthoritarians less so.”

Velez and Lavine defined authoritarianism as

a stable propensity concerned with minimizing difference and maximizing the “oneness and sameness” of people, ideas and behaviors or, more simply, as a preference for social conformity over individual autonomy. The worldview of authoritarians stresses conformity and obedience, as well as the belief that too much individual autonomy — and diversity in general — will result in social rebellion and instability of the status quo.

Authoritarians, Velez and Lavine wrote, “find diversity threatening, and they react to it with increasing racial resentment, anti-immigration beliefs and political intolerance. By contrast, nonauthoritarians react to diversity by becoming more politically tolerant and by embracing African Americans and immigrants.”

As issues “related to race and ethnicity, crime, law and order, religion and gender” have gained centrality, according to Velez and Lavine, “two fundamental changes have occurred in the nature of partisanship.”

The first is the creation of “an alignment between political identity and authoritarianism, such that high authoritarians have moved into the Republican Party and low authoritarians have moved into the Democratic Party.”

The second is that “the notion of partisan identities as social identities — defining what Democrats and Republicans are stereotypically like as people — has intensified, leading the two partisan groups to hold increasingly negative feelings about each other.”

As a result, the authors argued:

given that authoritarianism is (a) strongly linked to partisanship and (b) activated by ethnoracial diversity, it is likely that some of the “affective polarization” in contemporary American politics can be traced to authoritarianism. That is, perceptions of “us” and “them” have been magnified by the increasing alignment between party identification and authoritarianism.

Ariel Malka , a political scientist at Yeshiva University, contended in an email that there are further complications. “Public attitudes in Western democracies,” Malka wrote, “vary on a sociocultural dimension , encompassing matters like traditional versus progressive views on sexual morality, gender, immigration, cultural diversity and so on.”

Recently, however, Malka continued:

some evidence has emerged that the anti-immigrant and nativist parts of this attitude package are becoming somewhat detached from the parts having to do with gender and sexuality, especially among younger citizens. Indeed, there is a meaningful contingent of far-right voters who combine liberal attitudes on gender and sexuality with nativist and anti-immigrant stances.

What do these trends suggest politically? According to Malka:

As for how this relates to democratic preferences, citizens who hold traditional cultural stances on a range of matters tend, on average, to be more open to authoritarian governance and to violations of democratic norms. So there is some basis for concern that antidemocratic appeals will meet a relatively receptive audience on the right at a time of inflamed sociocultural divisions.

I asked Pippa Norris , a political scientist at Harvard, about the rising salience of authoritarianism, and she provided a summary of her forthcoming book, “ The Cultural Roots of Democratic Backsliding .” In a description of the book on her website, Norris wrote:

Historical and journalistic accounts often blame the actions of specific strongman leaders and their enablers for democratic backsliding — Trump for the Jan. 6 insurrection in America, Modi for the erosion of minority rights in India, Netanyahu for weakening the powers of the Supreme Court in Israel and so on. But contingent narratives remain unsatisfactory to explain a general phenomenon, they fail to explain why ordinary citizens in longstanding democracies voted these leaders into power in the first place, and the direction of causality in this relationship remains unresolved.

Her answer, in two steps.

Deep-rooted and profound cultural changes have provoked a backlash among traditional social conservatives in the electorate. A wide range of conventional moral values and beliefs, once hegemonic, are under threat today in many modern societies. Value shifts are exemplified by secularization eroding the importance of religious practices and teachings, declining respect for the institutions of marriage and the family and more fluid rather than fixed notions of social identities based on gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, community ties and national citizenship. An extensive literature has demonstrated that the “silent revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s has gradually led to growing social liberalism, recognizing the principles of diversity, inclusion and equality, including support for issues such as equality for women and men in the home and work force, recognition of L.G.B.T.Q. rights and the importance of strengthening minority rights.

These trends, in turn, have “gradually undermined the majority status of traditional social conservatives in society and threatened conventional moral beliefs.”

Authoritarian populist forces further stoke fears and exploit grievances among social conservatives. If these political parties manage to gain elected office through becoming the largest party in government or if their leaders win the presidency, they gain the capacity to dismantle constitutional checks and balances, like rule of law, through processes of piecemeal or wholesale executive aggrandizement.

For a detailed examination of the rise of authoritarianism, I return to Hetherington, the political scientist I cited at the start of this column. In his email, Hetherington wrote:

The tilt toward the Republicans among more authoritarian voters began in the early 2000s because the issue agenda began to change. Keep in mind, so-called authoritarians aren’t people who are thirsting to do away with democratic norms. Rather they view the world as full of dangers. Order and strength are what, in their view, provide an antidote to those dangers. Order comes in the form of old traditions and conventions as well. When they find a party or a candidate who provides it, they support it. When a party or candidate wants to break from those traditions and conventions, they’ll oppose them. Until the 2000s, the main line of debate had to do with how big government ought to be. Maintaining order and tradition isn’t very strongly related to how big people think the government ought to be. The dividing line in party conflict started to evolve late in the 20th century. Cultural and moral issues took center stage. As that happened, authoritarian-minded voters, looking for order, security and tradition, moved to the Republicans in droves. When people talk about the Republicans attracting working-class whites, these are the specific working-class whites that the G.O.P.’s agenda attracted. As such, the movement of these voters to the G.O.P. long predated Trump. His rhetoric has made this line of conflict between the parties even sharper than before. So that percentage of high-scoring authoritarian voters for Trump is higher than it was for Bush, McCain and Romney. But that group was moving that way long before 2016. The seeds had been planted. Trump didn’t do it himself.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here's our email: [email protected] .

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Thomas B. Edsall has been a contributor to the Times Opinion section since 2011. His column on strategic and demographic trends in American politics appears every Wednesday. He previously covered politics for The Washington Post. @ edsall

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