Miriam Bankovsky, La Trobe University - The family in the history of economic thought: From Alfred Marshall to Gary Becker and beyond

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Title: The family in the history of economic thought: From Alfred Marshall to Gary Becker and beyond

Abstract: Do you study the economic behaviour of families, households, and women, or the economic lives of unconventional households or gender diverse families? Would you like to improve your understanding of the history of your sub-discipline? If so, this paper is for you. Most family economists today tend to misunderstand the history of their sub-discipline, or they know little about it. Some follow Gary Becker, who once wrote that “economists hardly noticed the family prior to the 1950s” (1981/1991, 2; see also Shoshana Grossbard 2015 and others). Others follow the leading voices of disciplinary feminist economics, who locate family economics not just in the New Household Economics of Becker and others, but also in the labour market studies of women’s workforce participation of the 1970s onwards (Julie Nelson 2008, 283; Frances Woolley 2001, 328 etc.). My presentation corrects this widespread misunderstanding by excavating the family economics of several important historical scholars who were accepted as economists in their own times. The talk briefly summarises the findings of my forthcoming book (The Family, Economics, and Ethics: A New History, Cambridge University Press 2023), which details and contextualises six stages in the history of family economics from the nineteenth century to the present. These include the Victorian family economics of Marshall and Jevons; the late nineteenth century European population and family economics of Pareto and Walras; the interwar North American home and consumer economics of the lesser-known Hazel Kyrk, Elizabeth Hoyt, Margaret Reid, Dorothy Brady and others; the well-known New Household Economics of Mincer, Schultz, and Becker; the family economics of 1990s disciplinary feminism; and the ‘poor’ family economics of Esther Duflo, Abhijit Banerjee, and others. What emerges is a picture of how new methodologies and theories in family economics have emerged as a function of the social problems that were perceived to be important in different time periods.

Presenter: Miriam Bankovsky‪, La Trobe University

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