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The University of Southampton
Economic, Social and Political Sciences

Women’s liberation: what’s in it for men?

Published: 25 May 2008 Origin:  Economics

On 30 April Professor Michele Tertilt gave a seminar on an economic analysis of women's liberation, as part of the seminar series organised by the Economics division at the University of Southampton.

The nineteenth century witnessed dramatic improvements in the legal rights of married women. Given that these changes took place long before women gained the right to vote, they amounted to a voluntary renouncement of power by men. Professor Tertilt’s lecture, entitled ‘Womens liberation: what’s in it for men?’, explored men’s incentives for sharing power with women.

Professor Tertilt has developed a ‘model of women’s rights’ where women’s legal rights set the marital bargaining power of husbands and wives. Using this model, Professor Tertilt argued that men face a tradeoff between the rights they want for their own wives (namely none) and the rights of other women in the economy, suggesting that men prefer other men’s wives to have rights because men care about their own daughters and because an expansion of women’s rights increases educational investments in children.

Professor Tertilt’s model shows that men may agree to relinquish some of their power once technological change increases the importance of human capital. This argument is corroborated with historical evidence on the expansion of women’s rights in England and the United States in the March 2008 paper.

Professor Tertilt is an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at Stanford, USA. She is also an affiliate of the Bureau for Research in the Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD). Her research analyses the interaction between different family arrangements and economic development – a field that is now called ‘Family Macro’.

Professor Tertilt is currently working with Dr Alice Schoonbroodt on research projects that aim to understand the historical pattern of fertility: in particular, why fertility has declined so dramatically over the last 150 years.

Speakers at the Economics seminar series this academic year include Mike Golosov (MIT), Mark Wright (UCLA), and Dirk Krueger (Penn).

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