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Nineteenth-century French liberal economists and the women question: The dark side of industrialization

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Abstract

This paper deals with the analysis of the women question by nineteenth-century French liberal economists: it aims at showing that this analysis contradicted Bastiat’s conviction that they adopted, according to which “men’s interests, when left to themselves, tend to form harmonious combinations and to work together for progress and the general good”. Indeed, French Liberals are usually labelled optimistic: they denounced the pessimistic and fatalist character of the “English school of economics” based on Ricardo’s rent theory and Malthus’s law. On the opposite, they attempted to prove that economic development resulted in an improvement of the situation of all, especially that of workers: they stated that wages had increased as well as opportunities for social advancement. However, most of them gave a nuanced picture of the situation of the working class, by distinguishing the case of women from that of men (§.I): women did not benefit from this improvement. The low wages paid to women were a true concern for most of them. They accordingly tried to understand its reasons, which led them to adopt a specific theory of wages for women, according to which the price of labour should be at the level where women can satisfy their own needs. However, this theory was different from the one they developed for men (§.II). Finally, French Liberals also tried to find solutions that might improve the situation of women: while they agreed that the solution was the promotion of female education, they diverged about the nature of the knowledge that should be provided. Indeed, providing professional skills to women would increase their capacity to enter the labour market. Accordingly, it would alienate them from their “primarily role” or “natural vocation”, which was “to be mother and educator” (§.III).
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hal-03953177 , version 1 (23-01-2023)

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  • HAL Id : hal-03953177 , version 1

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Nathalie Sigot. Nineteenth-century French liberal economists and the women question: The dark side of industrialization. Annual Conference of the European Society for the History of Economic Thought, European Society for the History of Economic Thought (ESHET), May 2019, Lille, France. ⟨hal-03953177⟩

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