In What Way Do Class and Gender Interact to Generate Economic Inequality in Market Societies?

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It was the political journalist, George Megalogenis who wrote in his book Fault Lines that it was ‘wogs and women’ who laboured to create modern Australia (2003, p.28). Megalogenis posits ‘wogs’ as the low paid, unskilled or under-skilled ‘working’ class, post World War II migrants. The Marxist principle of a reserve army of labour – which includes unskilled as well as casual or precarious labour and women – proposes that, as supply of labour is constant and abundant; the wages of this group are kept low. Horizontal inequality has resulted from women’s double burden of being underpaid for performing the same private work as men as well as the seemingly sole responsibility of unpaid, domestic labour. Concurrently, ongoing engendered disadvantage is on display in the high levels of vertical inequality whereby opportunities for the advancement of women within market society and the broader economy are stifled. These issues are further propagated by state policies that, for example, attach parental leave payment levels to the lower income of the household further relegating women to the lowest pay levels and entrenching the inequity that the gender pay gap creates. Attempts at economic empowerment and longer term prosperity that come from uninterrupted engagement in the workforce as enjoyed by men are further sabotaged by this disincentive. This essay will argue that both classism and gender based inequity have intersected to create serious financial and social disadvantage to women. Moreover, this paper will explore how both formal and informal institutions; structure and agency - whilst providing basic rights - have intertwined to create ongoing class and gender based inequality for women within market society.

Karl Marx’ theory of the relations of production can be used as an important platform in locating the origins of class and gender inequity to the early stages of capitalism. In his theory ‘the relations of production’ he explained that private ownership of land and capital created class structures amongst people within market society. Divisions occurred between the capitalist classes (bourgeoisie) who owned the means of production and the exploited working classes (proletariat) who did not. Those who owned land or capital - usually men in elite or aristocratic social classes or members of political parties - were empowered in being the determiner of incomes and have power over the wellbeing of the working classes who create his profit from surplus labour or by payment of rent for the use of private property or land. The enclosure movement that preceded capitalism in tandem with the patrilineal system of inheritance guaranteed property ownership to men who in turn handed ownership through the male line. Wealth, property and capital ownership therefore went to the husband or head male figure within kinship groups subsequently keeping fortune and property away from women. Men have thus been installed as the traditional owners of land, capital and wealth and therefore own and control the means of production and subsequent wealth generation within society. This henceforth has led to the financial subordination of the women within the kinship group and more broadly in market society to male benefaction.

Gary Becker, a Neo-Classical economist of the Chicago School picks up this construct in his use of the traditional family unit (husband, wife and progeny) to explain the reason - in economic terms - for the engendered roles men and women occupy within market society. He explores Marx’s theory of ownership through the concept of benefaction in his seminal work A Treatise on the Family. Becker acknowledges that within the patriarchal system the husband is the owner of the family income who relegates his wife (and children) to that of the beneficiaries of his fortune. Becker adds to his argument by applying Adam Smith’s theory of specialisation of labour to the ‘home economy’. He argues that (as a producer might behave...
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