Women’s empowerment and gender equality have become mainstream
aspects of international development discourse.1 Markets help
achieve those goals. Markets played a vital role in empowering the
women of the West historically and continue to empower increasing
numbers of women around the world today.
A review of the development literature suggests that “gender
inequality declines as poverty declines, so the condition of women
improves more than that of men with development.”2 In other
words, women stand to gain more from prosperity than men.
Markets empower women in at least two interrelated ways. First,
markets have produced timesaving and health-related innovations
that have disproportionately benefited women. Second, labor market
participation offers women economic independence and heightened
bargaining power. These modes of empowerment reinforce each
Laborsaving innovations shifted the traditionally female burden
of housework onto machines, freeing women’s time. Medical advances
provided by free enterprise have lengthened women’s lives and
increased their children’s likelihood of survival, allowing for
smaller family sizes. As a result, women have more time to pursue
their ambitions: more life years, and more years for activities
other than childrearing. They also have more time for leisure,
making their lives more pleasant.
Labor market participation, in which firms compete for women’s
labor, allows women to accumulate money and increase their
bargaining power both in society and in their households. Such
participation also speeds economic growth and innovation in a
virtuous cycle by creating a larger labor force.3
Traditionally, the coercive power of the state, being primarily an
expression of male preferences, often obstructed women’s labor
market participation, limiting their activities to prescribed
roles. Today, a growing number of women are free to make their own
choices regarding family and career.
Market-driven innovations have had a positive effect on women’s
lives. Medical innovations, and health improvements financed by the
unprecedented prosperity generated by free enterprise and
industrialization, have improved women’s overall health, including
life expectancy, and impacted their fertility. Laborsaving
technology has lessened women’s time spent doing household chores,
such as cooking and laundry. Positive change is not limited to the
past but is ongoing in developing countries today.
Market-Driven Health Improvements
Living conditions remained remarkably constant throughout most
of history: poverty was ubiquitous. Then, around 200 years ago,
economic growth started to accelerate, first in Great Britain and
the Netherlands, then the rest of Western Europe and North America,
and finally the rest of the world. Markets globalized in the 19th
century, and the Industrial Revolution took productivity to new
heights, causing the acceleration in economic growth and ultimately
leading to widespread prosperity.
Similarly, human life expectancy — arguably the best
overall measure of health — remained relatively flat
throughout history until the late 1800s, when it began to
rise.4 This “health transition” started in
Europe and North America in the 1870s, and then spread to the rest
of the world.
These striking improvements in income and health are related.
Ample literature shows that, on average, people in wealthier
countries outlive those in poorer countries, a relationship known
as the Preston curve.5 While the strong correlation does not
necessarily prove that higher income causes better health,
it does show that “income must be important in some ways
and at some times” to the improvement of health, according to Nobel
Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton.6
As income grows, it pays for improved diets, housing,
sanitation, and medicine, all of which affect health. Deaton
attributes the rise in life expectancy primarily to innovations in
urban sanitation and the discovery of the germ theory of disease,
noting that the unprecedented wealth generated by the Industrial
Revolution funded the construction of safe water supplies and
sewage systems at a scale never before achieved.7 That
decreased the rate of infant deaths in particular. As important as
scientific advances were, it was rising market-driven prosperity
that financed the public-health projects inspired by newfound
scientific knowledge. “Turning the germ theory into safe water and
sanitation … requires … money,” Deaton notes.8
It is true that the rapid urbanization during the Industrial
Revolution initially raised the mortality rate because disease
spreads more easily in concentrated populations without proper
sanitation. However, since the 1870s the urban mortality rate has
declined faster than the rural rate in the United
States.9 City dwellers typically have higher
incomes than their rural counterparts and better access to modern
medicine. During the Industrial Revolution, some factories even
offered their workers free vaccinations.10
Importantly, “all of the health transitions in all countries
have been achieved since capitalism began,” and specific
health-improving innovations such as vaccines “must at least in
part be due to the conditions created by capitalism,” argues
philosopher Ann E. Cudd of Boston University.11 Major
improvements in longevity first occurred in rich countries only
after the Industrial Revolution and advent of global trade
accelerated economic growth. Even more rapid progress can be
observed in developing countries today, as poor countries can adopt
institutions and technologies from rich countries to hasten their
progress in both economic development and health.
Women’s Health and Fertility in Historical
Perspective. Health advances that the market helped enable
have benefited women even more than men. Consider the history of
The average hunter-gatherer woman probably had about four
children, with typical intervals of four years between each
child.12 That represents low fertility by the
standards of the poorest countries today; prehistoric women’s high
levels of physical exertion likely decreased the probability of
conception.13 Paleopathologists estimate about 20
percent of children died before their first birthday.14 “Life
expectancy at birth among hunter-gatherers was 20-30 years
depending on local conditions,” according to Deaton.15
After agriculture’s invention, many people stopped living
nomadically and built permanent settlements. Quality of life may
have deteriorated for women, who went through more childbirths
(which were dangerous) and saw more of their children die than
their ancestors did because permanent settlements without proper
waste disposal are a breeding ground for disease.16
By the year 1800, the typical U.S. woman bore seven
children.17 On average, only four would survive to
see their fifth birthday. The other three typically died from
ailments that are easily preventable or curable today.
Yet by the 20th century women outlived men.18 As Figure 1
shows, the average number of a woman’s children that she had to
bury fell from three in 1800 to two in 1850 and one in 1900.
Figure 1: Survival of
children per woman in the United States, 1800-2015
Source: Max Roser, “Children that Died before 5
Years of Age per Woman (based on Gapminder), Children that Survived
Past Their 5th Birthday per Woman,” Our World in Data,
The average U.S. woman today has two children and sees both
survive to adulthood. Most families today have fewer children in
part because they are confident that every child they bring into
the world will live.
Not only do women have fewer and healthier children, but
childbirth has become safer for mothers. Data for Sweden and
Finland dating back to 1751 paint a grim picture: around 1,000
maternal deaths for every 100,000 births (see Figure 2). If a woman
gave birth seven times, that entailed a 7 percent chance of her
death in childbirth. At the time, the British colonies that would
become the United States were poorer than Sweden and Finland and
probably had an even higher maternal mortality rate.
Figure 2: Maternal mortality
rate in selected countries, deaths per 100,000 births,
Source: Hans Rosling, “Maternal Mortality Ratio,”
In 1900, the U.S. rate of maternal death in childbirth was more
than 800 per 100,000 births. Steven Pinker of Harvard University
has noted, “for an American woman, being pregnant a century ago was
almost as dangerous as having breast cancer today.”19 After a
brief spike in 1918 during the practice of questionable medical
techniques, the rate plummeted.20 “[T]he reduction in maternal
mortality in twentieth century America is one reason why women’s
life expectancy has risen faster than men’s,” according to
Deaton.21 Today, U.S. women rarely die in the
As Figure 3 shows, a typical 20-year-old woman in the United
States today can expect to live for more than 60 additional years.
That is about 18 more years of life than a 20-year-old U.S. woman
could expect two centuries ago.
Figure 3: A 20-year-old U.S.
woman’s average years of remaining life, 1795-2013
Source: Michael R. Haines and Richard H. Steckel,
eds., A Population History of North America (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2000); E. Arias, M. Heron, and J. Xu,
“United States Life Tables, 2013,” National vital statistics
reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital
Statistics System 66.3 (2017): 1; Clayne L. Pope “Adult
Mortality in America before 1900: A View from Family Histories” in
Strategic Factors in Nineteenth Century American Economic
History: A Volume to Honor Robert W. Fogel (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2008); and Kent Kunze, “The Effects of
Age Composition and Changes in Vital Rates on Nineteenth Century
Population Estimates from New Data,” (PhD diss., Department of
Economics, University of Utah, 1979).
The same progress is now unfolding in developing countries.
Women’s Health and Fertility in Developing
Countries. Practically everywhere, women outlive men and
the number of children per woman has decreased. As people escape
poverty throughout the world, their children are more likely to
survive, allowing for smaller families — a phenomenon called
the fertility transition.
It is almost unheard of for a country to maintain a high
fertility rate after it passes about $5,000 in per person annual
income.22 “The average Bangladeshi woman can now
expect to have about the same number of children as the average
Frenchwoman,” observed The Economist in 2016, and even in
Africa, the poorest continent, fertility rates are
falling.23 In the very poorest countries, women
often have more children than they say they want, but having more
children than desired may be a strategy adopted in reaction to
higher rates of child mortality: if a woman wants two children but
has reason to believe that half of her children will die in
infancy, she may plan to have four children rather than two. For
example, the average Nigerian still expects to have about three
more children than she ultimately desires.24 As
children’s odds of survival improve, such an insurance strategy
Smaller family sizes have freed women’s time, enabling mothers
to devote more attention to each individual child, further
decreasing an infant’s chance of death, while allowing women to
take on pursuits such as paid employment. In developing countries
today, women’s rising educational attainment and earning power
boost their children’s probability of survival still
Death in childbirth has become rarer practically everywhere on
Earth, even in developing countries. As can be seen in Figure 2, in
a few decades Malaysia made the same progress against death in
childbirth that the currently rich countries took multiple
centuries to achieve. Malaysia’s case is not unusual.
“That India today has higher life expectancy than Scotland in
1945 — in spite of per capita income that Britain had
achieved as early as 1860 — is a testament to the power of
knowledge to short-circuit history,” argues Deaton.26 Today,
progress is ongoing, as piped water, improved sanitation
facilities, vaccinations, and other health innovations spread
throughout developing countries.
In sum, the unprecedented rise in prosperity, medical
understanding, and innovation over the last two centuries has
bettered women’s health dramatically and continues to do so in poor
countries today. Innovations created in rich countries are being
adopted by poor countries, enabling them to achieve better health
outcomes more quickly.
Cooking: Full-Time Job to Hobby
As with medical advancements, technological innovations have
further advanced opportunities for today’s women. Cooking has
traditionally fallen to women, and so timesaving and laborsaving
kitchen devices primarily benefit women. Over time, markets have
brought about and lowered the cost of such innovations as
microwaves, convection ovens, ranges, grills, toasters, blenders,
food processors, slow cookers, and other laborsaving kitchen
devices.27 Markets have also given more women more
access to ready-made foodstuffs, so each dish does not have to be
prepared entirely from scratch. Thanks to such advancements,
cooking has changed from a necessary, labor-intensive task to an
optional and recreational activity in rich countries, and that
transition is ongoing in the developing countries.
Women’s Escape from the Kitchen in the United
States. “In 1900 a typical American household of the
middle class would spend 44 hours [a week] in food preparation,”
according to economist Stanley Lebergott of Wesleyan
University.28 Most of that work fell to women. In
other words, back in the days of churning one’s own butter and
baking one’s own bread, food preparation consumed as much time as a
full-time job. In addition to cooking, women were also often
responsible for cleaning the home, washing laundry and hanging it
out to dry, sewing and mending clothes, and tending to
In 1910, Lebergott estimates that U.S. households spent
approximately six hours daily cooking meals, including cleanup. By
the mid-1960s, that had fallen to 1.5 hours.29
By 2008, the average low-income American spent just over an hour
on food preparation each day and the average high-income American
spent slightly less than an hour daily.30
Disaggregating the data by gender reveals even more progress for
women. In the United States, from the mid-1960s to 2008, women more
than halved the amount of time they spent on food preparation,
whereas men nearly doubled time spent on that activity, as
household labor distributions became more equitable between
Mass production of everyday foodstuffs assisted this
transformation of women’s time. In 1890, 90 percent of American
women baked their own bread.31 Missouri’s Chillicothe Baking Company
started offering the luxury of factory-baked, presliced
bread in 1928, and other companies soon offered competing products.
By 1965, 78 out of every 100 pounds of flour a U.S. woman brought
into her kitchen came in the form of baked bread or some other
ready-prepared good.32 Today, baking one’s own bread in the
United States is a hobby, rather than a necessary routine.
Markets have even produced grocery delivery services that bring
food to one’s door with the tap of a smartphone application. Market
processes also lowered the cost of dining out, and today Americans
spend more money dining out than eating in.33
Ongoing Escape from the Kitchen in Developing
Countries. The liberation of women from hours upon hours
in the kitchen is ongoing, as technological devices and
mass-produced goods spread to new parts of the globe. Worldwide, as
many as 55 percent of households still cook entirely from raw
ingredients at least once a week. In China, that number is as high
as 71 percent.34
A 2015 survey found that average hours spent cooking are as high
as 13.2 hours per week in India, and 8.3 hours in Indonesia,
compared to 5.9 hours in the United States.35 That is
only among those who regularly cook. If a higher
percentage of Indians than Americans engage in that activity, it is
likely that the actual disparity between the two countries’ average
hours devoted to food preparation is larger.
While a gap in time spent on food preparation remains between
rich and poor countries, today even in India — the poorest
country surveyed, and the one with the highest reported average
food preparation hours — women devote almost 31 fewer hours
to food preparation per week than U.S. women did in 1900. Even
allowing for compatibility problems in comparing those figures (the
estimate for 1900 included cleanup time, whereas the Indian women
surveyed in 2015 were not asked to include cleanup time and so may
have excluded time spent on cleanup in their answers), the sheer
size of this difference suggests some degree of improvement. A
separate survey of Chinese households found that average time spent
on food preparation by women declined from more than 5 hours per
day in 1989 to 1.2 hours in 2011 (see Figure 4).
Figure 4: Time spent on food
preparation by Chinese women, hours per day, 1989-2011
Source: “China Health and Nutrition Survey,”
University of North Carolina Population Center, http://www.cpc.unc.edu/projects/china.
Much room for improvement remains. In 2017, only 0.5 percent of
Chinese households and 1.8 percent of Indian households had a
dishwasher, compared to 71 percent of U.S. households.36 In 2017, 42
percent of Chinese households and just 17 percent of Indian
households had a microwave, compared to 96 percent of U.S.
households. Euromonitor’s Passport Global Market Information
Database holds that only 32 percent of Indian households had a
refrigerator in 2017.37
As prosperity spreads and poverty declines, kitchen gadgets and
ready-made goods will free up more hours of women’s food
preparation time around the world. Other innovations will similarly
free women from other time-consuming tasks, such as laundry.
Washing: a Full Day to an Hour a Week
Economist Ha-Joon Chang at the University of Cambridge has
argued that “the laundry machine has changed the world more than
the internet has,” and for women, that may be true.38 Market
innovations ranging from the invention of detergent to
ever-more-helpful laundry and drying machines transformed the chore
of laundry from a dreadful undertaking to a minor inconvenience in
the rich countries. Today, that story is ongoing throughout the
Liberation from Laundry in Historical
Perspective. The effect of the washing machine’s arrival
in the rich countries as an “engine of liberation” for women, the
traditional doers of housework, has been
well-documented.39 Writer Bill Bryson described the dismal
task of laundry in 19th-century England in his book At Home: A
Short History of Private Life:
Because there were no detergents before the 1850s, most
laundry loads had to be soaked in soapy water or lye for hours,
then pounded and scrubbed with vigor, boiled for an hour or more,
rinsed repeatedly, wrung out by hand or (after about 1850) fed
through a roller, and carried outside to be [hung to dry] …
Linen was often steeped in stale urine, or a dilute solution of
poultry dung, as this had a bleaching effect, but the resulting
smell required additional vigorous rinsing, usually in some kind of
herbal extract. Starching was such a big job that it was often left
to the following day. Ironing was another massive and dauntingly
Bryson also notes that each different color of fabric had to be
washed separately with distinct chemical compounds; that on laundry
day someone had to get up as early as 3 a.m. to get the hot water
going; and that in households with servants, laundrymaids were the
lowest-ranked, with laundering sometimes doled out as a punishment
to other servants.41
The situation in the United States was similarly grim. According
to Liberty Fund senior fellow Sarah Skwire, U.S. housewives still
spent 11.5 hours per week on laundry in the 1920s.42 As the
market allowed more households access to washing machines or
laundry services, average time on laundry fell to just under seven
hours by 1965.
Laundry machines also became more widespread in many of the
countries of Europe around that time. Hans Rosling of the
Karolinska Institute described his grandmother’s excitement when
his family first bought a washing machine in the early 1950s in
Throughout her life she had been heating water with
firewood, and she had hand-washed laundry for seven children. And
now she was going to watch electricity do that work… . Grandma
pushed the button, and she said, “Oh, fantastic! I want to see
this! Give me a chair! Give me a chair! I want to see it,” and she
sat down in front of the machine, and she watched the entire
washing program. She was mesmerized. To my grandmother, the washing
machine was a miracle.43
That miracle quickly became commonplace in rich countries such
as Sweden and the United States. Where markets were unable to
operate, there were no incentives to provide women with laundry
machines and other timesaving devices, and so progress was slower.
Journalist Slavenka Drakulić noted that an American visiting the
Communist Bloc in the 1980s would be aghast to find most women
still doing laundry the way they had in the United States 50 years
prior, without washing machines.44 Throughout the Communist Bloc
countries, women often soaked clothes in metal tubs, scrubbed them
bent over the tubs’ rims using washboards, then boiled them on
stovetops, stirring the clothes with long spoons. The elaborate
ritual took up a full day each week and left their hands swollen,
cracked, and covered in sores.45 The male economic planners did not
even sell rubber gloves that would have protected the women’s skin.
Shortages of laundry detergent were also endemic throughout the
communist countries. When there is no market incentive to fulfill
human needs, it is often women’s needs that are forgotten
Today, Americans spend less than two hours a week on the chore,
and a greater share of poor U.S. households own laundry machines
than did the average of all U.S. households in the
1970s.46 While laundry machines are far from the
only reason women’s options have multiplied in the West, they
helped. “Without the washing machine,” claims Chang, “the scale of
change in the role of women in society and in family dynamics would
not have been nearly as dramatic.”47
Ongoing Liberation from Laundry in Developing
Countries. Thanks to economic growth and rapidly declining
global poverty, more women enjoy ownership of, or access to,
laundry machines. One 2013 study estimated 46.9 percent of
households worldwide owned a laundry machine in 2010, while a 2016
survey estimated global laundry machine use at 69 percent, and the
market for laundry machines is projected to continue
Consider China, home to the greatest escape from poverty of all
time, when economic liberalization freed hundreds of millions of
Chinese from penury.49 China’s economy (measured in 2014 U.S.
dollars and adjusted for differences in purchasing power) grew more
than 30-fold between 1978, when the country abandoned communist
economic policies, and 2016.50
In 1981, less than 10 percent of urban Chinese households had a
washing machine. By 2011, 97.05 percent did.51 In 1985,
less than 5 percent of rural Chinese households had a washing
machine. By 2011, 62.57 percent did. This progress is captured in
Figure 5. Not only has China seen tremendous progress, but the gap
between rural and urban areas has narrowed. In 2016, 89.4 percent
of all Chinese households had a washing machine, up from 60.4
percent in 2002.52
Figure 5: Average ownership
of washing machines in Chinese households, 1981-2011
Source: Laili Wang, Xuemei Ding, Rui Huang, and
Xiongying Wu, “Choices and Using of Washing Machines in Chinese
Households,” International Journal of Consumer Studies 38,
no. 1 (January 2014): 104-9.
Let us turn to India, where liberalizing economic reforms began
in 1992.53 From 1992 to 2016, India’s economy grew
four-fold.54 In 2016, 11 percent of Indian
households owned a washing machine.55 Urban
households are better off, with ownership now topping 20 percent in
the most populous cities. As India’s economy continues to grow and
poverty further declines, more women will be able to hand over the
chore of laundry to machines.
Market competition and the profit motive incentivized the
washing machine’s invention and its ongoing marketing to new
customers in developing countries. Bendix Home Appliances patented
the first automatic washing machine for domestic use in
1937.56 As a Bendix ad put it in 1950, “washday
slavery became obsolete in just 13 years” for American women. In
2007, Panasonic launched laundry machines with a sterilization
mechanism using silver ions designed specifically to address
Chinese consumers’ concerns about undergarment bacteria and
successfully increased its market share in the country.57
Washing machine ownership is rising in many developing
countries, from Brazil to Vietnam (see Figure 6). Unfortunately,
Africa remains the continent with the worst record on economic
freedom, as well as the poorest continent with the least access to
timesaving technologies. Even in Africa, however, markets are now
slowly helping to alleviate poverty.58 Laundry
machine market penetration remains low (less than half of
households, according to one 2016 survey), so considerable room for
Figure 6: Washing machine
Source: “Household Possession Rate of Washing
Machines,” Global Market Information Database, Euromonitor,
Today, laundry machines are doing for women throughout the
developing world what they did for women in the West half a century
ago: freeing their time and labor from a grueling and relentless
chore. It is up to women how they spend the time freed up by
By Freeing Women’s Time, Innovation Has Expanded Their
Women do not invariably choose to devote the “freed” time
discussed above to leisure or pursuits outside the household. They
may spend the time in home production as before, but thanks to
efficiency-enhancing innovations, achieve higher household living
standards as a result.
Calculations by economist Valerie Ramey of the University of
California at San Diego suggest that from 1900 to the mid-1960s,
women’s total time devoted to housework fell by only 6 hours per
week rather than by 42 as Lebergott claims. Still, Ramey
acknowledges the positive trend and concedes that for similar
housework hours, women were able to achieve a higher standard of
living.60 In the preindustrial and early
industrial eras, having well-prepared meals, “clean clothes, clean
dishes, a clean house, and well-cared for children was just another
luxury the poor could not afford,” because women without servants
lacked the time and physical capacity to perform all the necessary
work, claims Ramey.61
In other words, as historian Ruth Cowan of the University of
Pennsylvania notes, “modern technology enabled the American
housewife of 1950 to produce singlehandedly what her counterpart of
1850 needed a staff of three to four to produce: a middle-class
standard of health and cleanliness for herself, her spouse, and her
Importantly, by liberating women’s time through medical and
technological innovations, markets expanded women’s options.
Whether women choose to spend the resulting freed time in home
production (to better effect), leisure, paid work, or other
pursuits, markets have made them better off than before.
The change in gendered division of labor also merits mention. As
shown in Figure 7, men’s total housework hours in the United States
have risen steadily since 1900, as women’s housework hours have
declined. While the primary mechanism by which markets have freed
women’s time is through innovation, markets may also have aided
cultural change, thus leading to more equitable divisions of
household labor. One driving force behind this shift may be women’s
greater bargaining power within households as a result of the
option of labor market participation.
Figure 7: Average weekly
hours in home production, United States, 1900-2011
Source: Valerie A. Ramey, “Time Spent in Home
Production in the 20th Century: New Estimates from Old Data,” NBER
Working Paper no. 13985, May 2008.
By freeing up women’s time, a limited and valuable resource,
market-driven innovations enabled women to participate in the labor
force. And in developing countries where laborsaving devices are
not yet widespread, an incredible amount of latent human potential
still remains, waiting to be unleashed.
Labor Market Participation
As with innovations, labor market participation has also had a
positive effect on women’s material well-being and social equality.
Despite its poor reputation, factory work has proven particularly
important for women’s labor force integration both historically and
today in developing countries.
Consider the historical effects of factory work on women in the
United States in the 19th century, as well as the effects of
factory work on women today in developing countries such as China
19th Century Factories in the United States
Women’s economic involvement in the United States increased
steadily from the American Revolution through the 19th century.
“Women … experienced increasing … autonomy in the sense of
freedom from utter dependence on particular men” over this time
period as more and more women took on paid work and married women
gained the legal right to separate estates, according to one study
of a Southern factory city.63 However, it was the greater
industrialization of the North that heralded the first entry en
masse of women into the labor force.
Even the wealthy United States had “sweatshops” once. During the
Industrial Revolution, young women fled the impoverished
countryside to work at factories in cities where they could earn
and spend their own money. Most ceased work after marriage, but for
a time they enjoyed a level of independence that disturbed
Many complained that factory conditions were too dangerous for
women. Others feared living apart from the protection of a father
or husband would ruin women’s reputations, because even if they did
not actually transgress the mores of the day, they still risked the
appearance of impropriety. In 1840, the Boston Quarterly
Review’s editor remarked, “ ‘She has worked in a factory,’ is
sufficient to damn to infamy the most worthy and virtuous
Female factory workers did not all consider themselves victims
of “capitalist exploitation” and insufficient male protection. Such
remarks about infamy and mistreatment prompted this response from a
textile mill operative named Harriet Farley in Lowell,
We are under restraints, but they are voluntarily
assumed; and we are at liberty to withdraw from them, whenever they
become galling or irksome… . [W]e are [here] to get money, as
much of it and as fast as we can… . It is these wages which, in
spite of toil, restraint, discomfort, and prejudice, have drawn so
many … girls to … factories… . [O]ne of the most
lucrative female employments should [not] be rejected because it is
toilsome, or because some people are prejudiced against it. Yankee
girls have too much independence for that.65
Farley was far from alone in her sentiments. The “joy of
relative independence” was a recurrent theme in millworkers’
accounts, according to historian Alice Kessler-Harris of Columbia
University.66 “As important as the feeling of having
cash in one’s pocket was the sense of choice that many women
experienced for the first time,” she notes.67
Diverse Motives and Achievements. Those who
imagine Industrial Revolution factory work in the United States as
a dark chapter in history might benefit from reading the words of
those who lived through it. Farm to Factory: Women’s Letters,
1830-1860, provides a collection of first-hand accounts
revealing a more nuanced reality.
The letters do indeed reveal abject misery, but that misery
comes from 19th-century farm life. To many women, factory work was
an escape from backbreaking agricultural labor. Consider this
excerpt from a letter a young woman on a New Hampshire farm wrote
to her urban factory-worker sister in 1845 (the spelling and
punctuation are modernized for readability):
Between my housework and dairying, spinning, weaving
and raking hay I find but little time to write… . This morning
I fainted away and had to lie on the shed floor fifteen or twenty
minutes for any comfort before I could get to bed. And to pay for
it tomorrow I have got to wash [the laundry], churn [butter], bake
[bread] and make a cheese and go … blackberrying
Compared to the
unceasing labor of the farm, even harsh factory conditions can
represent a positive change. By contrast, urban living often
offered somewhat better living conditions. Far more women sought
factory work than there were factory jobs available.
A closer look at the letters in the book reveals the incredibly
varied lives of the “factory girls.” For example, with a
substantial inheritance, Delia Page was never in need of money. But
at age 18, Delia decided to take up work in a factory in New
Hampshire despite the risks — a mill in nearby Massachusetts
had collapsed in a fire that killed 88 people and seriously injured
more than a hundred others.69 Delia’s foster family wrote to her
about the tragedy and their fears for her well-being.70 But she
defiantly continued factory work for several years.
What led well-to-do Delia to seek out factory work in spite of
the danger and long hours? The answer is social
independence.71 In their letters, her foster family
repeatedly urged her to break off what they considered a scandalous
affair, implored her to attend church, and subtly suggested she
come home.72 But by working in a factory, Delia was
free to live on her own terms — to her, that was worth
The unique story of Emeline Larcom also emerges from the
letters. Emeline’s background differed greatly from Delia’s. Her
father died at sea and her mother, widowed with 12 children,
struggled to support the family.73 Emeline and three of her sisters
found gainful employment at a factory and sent money home to
support their mother and other siblings.74 Emeline,
the oldest of the four Larcom factory girls, essentially raised the
other three. One of them, Lucy, went on to become a noted poet,
professor, and abolitionist. Her own memoirs cast mill work in a
Of the diverse personalities captured in the letters, only one
openly despises her work in the mill.76 Mary Paul
was a restless spirit. She moved from town to town, sometimes
working in factories, sometimes trying her hand at other forms of
employment such as tailoring, but she never stayed anywhere for
long.77 She loathed factory work, but it
enabled her to save up enough money to pursue her dream: buying
entry into a Utopian agricultural community that operated on
She enjoyed living at the “North American Phalanx” and working
only two to six hours a day while it lasted.79 But as is
common with such communities, it ran into money problems,
exacerbated by a barn fire, and she was forced to leave.80 She
eventually settled down, married a shopkeeper, and — her
letters seem to hint — became involved in the early
temperance movement to ban alcohol, another ultimately ill-fated
Delia, Emeline, and Mary provide a glimpse of the different ways
that factory work affected women during the Industrial Revolution.
Wealthy Delia gained the social independence she sought, and
Emeline was able to support her family. Even Mary, who detested
factories, was ultimately only able to chase her ill-advised dream
through factory work.
Increased Earning and Bargaining Power. In
addition to helping women achieve their personal goals, factory
work also gave women the economic power to lobby for broader social
By midcentury, women in the industrialized North began to
mobilize for women’s reform, including equal property rights and
custody of children, according to historian Robert Dinkin of
California State University at Fresno.82 This
prompted one male commentator to grouse in 1852 that “our women
Americans” should be “angels, not agitators.”83 Some key
reforms, such as the wave of laws granting married women more equal
property rights, were not a direct result of women’s agitation.
“Positive change in the status of women can occur when no organized
feminism is present,” as Rutgers University historian Suzanne
Lebsock put it.84 However, in the United States and
Britain, working-class women played a key role in the suffrage
By contrast, the women leaders of the anti-reform
countermovement were generally housewives.85 Many of
them felt threatened by the newfound purchasing power of factory
workers. Sarah Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, the
most influential mainstream women’s magazine of the day, insisted
women should shun activism and bewailed the fact that factory women
could afford the same clothes as the upper-class — even gold
watches — thus creating a “problem of distinguishing the lady
from the factory worker by dress alone.”86 Her panic
over blurring social classes exemplifies how industrialization
created widespread material prosperity for the first time.
In the primarily agricultural economy of the South, women were
less active in paid labor than their northern counterparts. Free
women were not typically involved in the business aspect of
plantations, with notable exceptions such as late 18th century
indigo mogul Eliza Pinckney.87 As for enslaved women, the ability of
slaves to earn money and buy personal property was mostly limited
to urban areas. In 1860, about 6 percent of rural and 31 percent of
urban slaves were “hired out,” often receiving a share of the wages
earned.88 However, their property rights were
profoundly restricted. The abolition of slavery in 1865 enabled
many of the roughly 13 percent of U.S. women who had been slaves to
engage in paid labor for the first time.89
Factories Helped Change Attitudes on Female Labor Force
Participation. Before the rise of the modern regulatory
state, there typically were no written laws barring free women from
entering occupations. However, sexist customary prohibitions were
strong. Cultural attitudes thus served to limit women’s ability to
pursue various professions.
Aided by the increased visibility of women mill workers, those
attitudes later underwent a transformation. By the mid-19th
century, even Southern newspapers openly advocated economic freedom
for (white) women: “Now, what every woman, no less than every man,
should have to depend upon, is an ability, after some fashion or
other, to turn labor into money. She may not … exercise it, but
everyone ought to possess it.”90 Editorials made explicit calls to
widen the range of occupations open to female workers, ranging from
postmasters to artists.
In 1840, one source alleged that only seven industries were
widely available to women: teaching, running an inn or
boardinghouse, typesetting, bookbinding, needlework, domestic
service, and mill work. By 1883, around 300 occupations were open
to women, ranging from “lady government officials” to beekeepers
and wood engravers.91 There were about 30 practicing women
lawyers, and even female physicians in the United States. Despite
facing prejudice for their race as well as their gender, the first
black female physician, Rebecca Lee Crumpler, earned her medical
degree from New England Female Medical College in 1864, and the
first black female lawyer, Charlotte E. Ray, graduated from Howard
University School of Law in 1872.92
New fields continued to open to women throughout the 20th
century.93 Women’s labor force participation rose
in part thanks to expanded opportunities. “Another factor was the
greater acceptance of married women in the labor force,” claims
Harvard University economist Claudia Goldin.94 But it was
improvements in household production technology in the mid-20th
century that allowed many more married women to enter the workforce
instead of tending the home as a full-time job (see Figure 8). As
shown in Figure 9, women’s home production time fell more sharply
after 1966, as those technologies became more widely available,
boosting labor market participation further. While not the only
causes, the technological and medical gains freeing women’s time
from home production and allowing for smaller family sizes played
an outsized role in bringing women’s labor force participation in
the United States up to its current level.
Figure 8: Labor force
participation rates in the United States by sex and marital status,
Source: Claudia Goldin, “The Quiet Revolution that
Transformed Women’s Employment, Education and Family,” Harvard
University Richard T. Ely Lecture, Figure 1,
“Employment Status of the Civilian Noninstitutional Population by
Age, Sex, and Race,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; “(Unadj)
Civilian Labor Force Level — Married 35-44 yrs., White
Women,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; “Current Population
Survey,” U.S. Census Bureau; and “Labor Force (Series D 1-682),”
Historical Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau.
Figure 9: Average weekly
hours spent in home production and market work among female
prime-age workers, 1900-2012
Source: Valerie Ramey, “Time Spent in Home
Production in the 20th Century United States,” Journal of
Economic History (March 2009): 33; updates through 2012 are
from Ramey’s website, “Valerie A. Ramey,” Department of Economics,
University of California, San Diego, http://econweb.ucsd.edu/~vramey/research.html.
Though the Industrial Revolution is often vilified, it empowered
many women to both achieve their personal goals and to effect
social change, and it was an important first step toward increasing
women’s socioeconomic mobility. The option of labor force
participation empowers women by offering them the chance to earn
money and attain economic independence.95 The
potential earning power then translates into increased
intrahousehold and societal bargaining power, lending more weight
to women’s voices. The option of entering the labor force also
strengthens the fallback position of women who choose not to engage
in paid labor.
Industrialization transformed not only women’s lives, but
society, and ultimately brought about widely shared prosperity
unimaginable in the preindustrial world. The pace of industrial
economic development has even been speeding up.96 In South
Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, the process of moving from
sweatshops to First World living standards took less than two
generations, as opposed to a century in the United States. Such
“sweatshop” factories are often primarily staffed by women.
Harriet Farley’s arguments still apply today. As long as work is
“voluntarily assumed” and laborers maintain the “liberty to
withdraw” from it, we should not reject a potential force for
women’s empowerment in developing countries in an attempt to
“[A]sk the woman,” economic historian Deirdre McCloskey
suggests, “if she would rather that the shoe company not make her
the offer… . Look at the length of queue that forms when Nike
opens a new plant in Indonesia. And ask her if she’d rather not
have any market opportunities at all, and be left home instead
entirely to her father or husband.”97
Factories in Developing Countries Today
Today, throughout the developing world, factory work continues
to serve as a path out of poverty and an escape from agricultural
drudgery, with particular benefits for women seeking economic
independence. There remain places “where sweatshops are a dream,”
offering life-transforming wages.98
Experts across the ideological spectrum agree that factories are
a proven path to development.99 “The overwhelming mainstream view
among economists is that the growth of this kind of employment is
tremendous good news for the world’s poor,” as economist Paul
Krugman put it.100
Industrialization helps women in particular: consider China and
Factories Today in China. China experienced the
most remarkable advancement out of poverty of all time, partly
thanks to a manufacturing boom following economic liberalization in
the late 1970s and 1980s. Some fear this has led to widespread
exploitation and sweatshop conditions.
“This simple narrative equating Western demand and Chinese
suffering is appealing,” according to writer Leslie T. Chang. “But
it’s also inaccurate and disrespectful.”101 “Chinese
workers are not forced into factories because of our insatiable
desire for iPods,” Chang explains.102 “They choose to leave their homes
[in rural China] in order to earn money, to learn new skills and to
see the world.”
She spent two years in China getting to know factory workers in
order to make their stories known.103 “In the ongoing debate about
globalization, what’s been missing is the voice of the workers
themselves,” she says. “Certainly the factory conditions are really
tough, and it’s nothing you or I would want to do, but from their
perspective, where they’re coming from is much worse… . I just
wanted to give that context of what’s going on in their minds, not
what necessarily is going on in yours.”104
The book Chang published as a result of her research,
Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China,
presents an intimate picture of how globalization changed the lives
of women in her ancestral country.105 The portraits that emerge of
independent, ambitious young women contrast sharply with the
widespread narrative of victimhood.
Women accounted for 70 percent of rural transplants to the
factory city that Chang visited. They travel farther from home and
stay longer in urban areas than their male counterparts. Women “are
more likely to value migration for its life-changing possibilities”
than men, because gender roles are less restrictive in cities than
in the traditional countryside.106 Unlike in most countries, in
China women have a higher suicide rate than men, and in rural areas
they are two to five times more likely to kill themselves than in
cities.107 Yet China’s suicide rate has declined
more rapidly than any other country’s in recent years, falling from
among the world’s highest rates in the 1990s, driven by
sky-high rates among young rural women, to among the world’s
lowest rates (see Figure 10).108 The World
Health Organization attributes this progress partly to women
gaining the option to leave the countryside to work in factory
cities, and so improving their social and economic
conditions.109 The Telegraph’s Yuan Ren
ascribes the high rural suicide rate to harsh gender roles: “Even
today, many rural women are treated like second class citizens by
their own family, subordinate to their fathers, brothers and
— once married — their husband and
mother-in-law.”110 A 2010 study found that, whereas
marriage has a protective effect against suicide in many countries,
marriage triples suicide risk among young rural Chinese
women.111 The author notes that “being married
in rural Chinese culture usually … further limits [a woman’s]
freedom” as a possible explanation for this.112
Figure 10: Urbanization and
decreasing suicide in China, 1992-2011
Source: “Back from the Edge,” The
Economist, June 24, 2014; Jie Zhang and Long Sun, “The Change
in Suicide Rates between 2002 and 2011 in China,” Suicide and
Life-Threatening Behavior 44, no. 5 (April 2014): 4.
Escape from such gender roles helps explain why many women
choose to migrate. Initially, Chinese society viewed factory work
as dangerous and shameful to a woman’s reputation, echoing
Victorian concerns for the Industrial Revolution’s factory
girls.113 But over time, migration became a rite
of passage for rural Chinese. Today, urban life affords factory
workers — particularly women — freedom from rural
areas’ more traditional, restrictive social norms. As The
Economist put it, “Moving to the cities to work … has been
the salvation of many rural young women, liberating
In the city, Chang was surprised to find that social mobility
was strong, with many assembly line women moving into
administrative roles or other fields.115 Factory
turnover was high, as women frequently switched jobs in search of
better prospects. Compared to their Industrial Revolution
predecessors, China’s factory girls enjoy more opportunities for
economic mobility and long-term labor force participation. Chang
observed that evening classes in business etiquette, English, or
computer skills could catapult an ambitious woman into white-collar
work. In fact, as China’s human capital and wages have soared, more
workers have moved into the services sector, and many factories
have relocated southward to poorer countries such as
Urbanization not only offers escape from poverty, but also has
the knock-on effect of improving migrants’ home villages. It
demolishes the idea that being poor in the city is just as bad, if
not worse, than being poor in the countryside. When Min, a handbag
factory employee accustomed to modern city life, visited her family
home in the countryside, she found herself faced with this
Electricity was used sparingly to save money, and most
dinners were eaten in near-darkness. There was no plumbing and no
heating. In the wet chill of the Hubei winter, the whole family
wore their coats and gloves indoors, and the cement walls and
floors soaked up the cold like a sponge. If you sat too long, your
toes went numb, and your fingers too.116
Min made it her mission to modernize the farm home where she
grew up. “Min walked through the house pointing out improvements
she wanted: a hot-water dispenser, a washing machine, a walk of
poured concrete across the muddy yard.”117 She told
Chang she planned on eventually paying for the construction of an
indoor bathroom and an electric hot-water heater so that her family
might bathe in the winter without being cold.
Migrants like Min act as the chief source of village income by
sending earnings home. Min and her older sister Guimin sent home
more than double the amount of money the small family farm brought
in through the sale of pigs and cotton. The money also gave the
sisters a voice in family affairs, letting them insist that their
younger sisters attend school longer than was usual for girls.
As Chang notes, most migrants never return permanently to the
countryside. “The ones who do well will likely buy apartments and
settle in their adopted cities; the others may eventually move to
towns and cities near their home villages and set up stores,
restaurants, and small businesses like hairdressing salons or
tailoring shops.”118 Very few go back to
farming.119 The majority of China’s swelling new
middle class are former economic migrants who did well in the
cities and stayed.120
But urban life does more than simply raise a woman’s
expectations regarding social status and influence. According to
Chang, migration makes rural women more likely to seek equality in
marriage.121 This is one way, in the factory towns
of the south, young women “came to believe that they mattered,
despite their humble origins.”122
As economic opportunity has swept across China, it has brought a
sense of self-worth. Chang notes the older and more rural Chinese
she interviewed did not believe their stories were worth telling,
but the young women in the city deemed themselves worthy subjects.
Chang noted that “individualism was taking root.”123
Thanks to economic liberalization, for the first time “there was
an opportunity to leave your village and change your fate, to
imagine a different life and make it real… . [Factory women]
were concerned with their own destinies, and they made their own
decisions.”124 Globalization didn’t imprison them in
sweatshops; it expanded their options.
Factories Today in Bangladesh. The word
“sweatshop” still conjures images of the tragic 2013 Rana Plaza
garment factory building collapse in Bangladesh that resulted in
more than a thousand deaths. In the wake of such disasters, many
people in rich countries assume the compassionate response is to
impose trade restrictions. But such a response would harm
Bangladeshi garment workers, most of whom are women, by forcing
them into far worse situations than factory work.
Social economist Naila Kabeer explored the “transformatory
potential” of factories in her 2000 book, The Power to
Choose.125 She interviewed 60 women in her native
Bangladesh. The country is home to 18.4 million of the world’s
poorest people and has strict gender norms.126
“In my mother’s time,” one woman told Kabeer, “women had to
tolerate more suffering because they did not have the means to
become independent. [T]hey are better off now… . [T]hey can
work and stand on their own feet. They have more
For many years, government and nongovernmental organizations
tried unsuccessfully to promote female participation in
Bangladesh’s labor force. “In the end, however, it took market
forces, and the advent of an export-oriented garment industry, to
achieve what a decade of government and non-government efforts had
failed to do: to create a female labor force,” notes
The country industrialized rapidly, growing its number of
export-oriented factories from a handful in the mid-1970s to around
700 by 1985.129 Today, approximately 80 percent of
garment workers are female, according to the World Bank.130
In 1985, Britain, France, and the United States all imposed
quota limitations on clothing imports from Bangladesh in response
to anti-sweatshop campaigns financed by labor unions in the rich
countries.131 Within three months, two-thirds of
Bangladeshi factories shuttered their gates and more than 100,000
women were thrown out of work.132
The Bangladeshi General Secretary of National Garment Workers
had this to say to the anti-sweatshop activists:
[N]ot buying Bangladeshi shirts isn’t going to help us,
it will just take away people’s jobs. The shock tactics —
such as the pictures I have seen from America of Bangladeshi shirts
dripping with blood — should stop… . As workers, we give
an emphatic “yes” to the campaign against quotas.133
Britain and France removed their quotas in 1986, and
Bangladesh’s garment industry has since expanded to thousands of
factories employing millions. (The United States finally ended its
apparel quota regime, which included Bangladeshi imports, in 2005,
but still maintains import tariffs on many kinds of
apparel).134 Growing protectionist sentiment in
rich countries, aided by sensationalized accounts of working
conditions in poor countries, could restrict Bangladesh’s
Despite its poor reputation, Bangladeshi factory work has
slashed extreme poverty and increased women’s educational
attainment while lowering rates of child marriage.135 The share
of Bangladeshi women married by age 18 has fallen from more than 73
percent in 1994 to 59 percent in 2014, and the average age of
Bangladeshi brides at first marriage has risen from 16 in 1975 to
19 in 2013.136 As in China, in Bangladesh women
commit suicide at higher rates than men, and the rural suicide rate
is 17-fold higher than the urban suicide rate.137 An
overview of the literature concluded that the unusually high
suicide rate among young women reflected forced marriages, lower
social status of women, poverty, and high rates of violence against
women.138 As with China, Bangladesh’s suicide
rate has declined as urbanization has increased.139 As women
have left the countryside for factory work in cities, it has not
only improved their personal situations, but also sparked broader
cultural change toward more freedom for women.
“Now I feel I have rights,” explained a factory woman whose
earnings allowed her to escape her physically abusive spouse. “I
can earn and survive.”140
The country’s women-dominated garment industry transformed the
norm of purdah or seclusion (literally, “veil”) that
traditionally prevented women from working beyond the home, walking
outside unaccompanied by a male guardian, or even speaking in the
presence of unrelated men. Many Bangladeshi women now interpret
purdah to simply mean modesty instead of social and
economic segregation. In Kabeer’s words, factory work let women
“renegotiate the boundaries of permissible behavior.”141 Today, in
Dhaka and other industrial cities, women walk outside and interact
with unrelated men.
Kabeer found “the decision to take up factory work was largely
initiated by the women themselves, often in the face of
considerable resistance from other family members.”142 Some men
beat their wives for seeking factory work. Dismayingly, a 2011
survey showed 65 percent of Bangladeshi wives have experienced
Several men Kabeer interviewed feared factory work gave women
too much freedom. As one man put it:
Women … are becoming a little too free. When I
marry, I will not let my wife work. Then she will have to obey my
wishes because she will be dependent on me.144
Not all Bangladeshi men think that way. In fact, the earning
power of women is eroding the custom of bridal dowries. It has also
brought about greater responsiveness by the court system toward
women. Since women have started working, the “law is on their
side,” one woman explained.145
Attitudes toward women are changing, and Kabeer found that
earning increased the weight a woman’s priorities carried within
the household. “When she brings [in] money, I have to buy her
whatever she wants,” explained one factory woman’s husband. He
continued, “She may want a new sari or she may say that [our]
daughter needs a book …”146
“Because women can work and earn money, they are being given
some recognition. Now all the men think that they are worth
something,” claimed one woman.147
Tragedies like the Rana Plaza building collapse are horrifying
and understandably garner a lot of press. But they should not
overshadow the garment industry’s wider-reaching effects on the
material well-being and social equality of women in Bangladesh. As
one factory worker put it: “The garments have saved so many
Market-led innovation has improved the lives of women even more
so than for men. Women have reaped greater benefits from health
advances financed by the prosperity created by free enterprise:
female life expectancy has risen faster than men’s and today women
outlive men almost everywhere. Women are also less likely to die in
childbirth, and falling infant mortality rates have enabled smaller
family sizes, giving women more time. Laborsaving household devices
have also freed women from the burden of housework. This freeing of
women’s time is ongoing as appliances spread throughout the world,
and as women spend less time on household production, more of them
choose to engage in paid labor.
Labor market participation offers women economic independence
and heightened societal bargaining power. Factory work, despite its
poor reputation, empowered women in the 19th-century United States
by helping them achieve economic independence and social change.
Today, the story of the factory girls is repeating itself in new
settings across the world, as young women gain economic
independence through risk and toil. In China, factory work gave
rural women a chance to change their fates and the conditions in
their home villages. In Bangladesh it let women renegotiate
restrictive cultural norms.
Innovation and market participation enable women to achieve
greater material prosperity and promote positive cultural change
away from sexism. Progress is still in its earlier stages in many
countries, but with the right policies, women everywhere can one
day enjoy the same degree of material prosperity and cultural
gender equality present in the United States today.
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Don’t Tell You about Capitalism, p. 36.
48 Claus Barthel and Thomas Götz,
“The Overall Worldwide Saving Potential from Domestic Washing
Machines,” bigEE (2013): 1-64; “Global Commercial Washing
Machine Market 2016-2020,” Infiniti Research Limited, November
2016; and Nielson, “The Dirt on Cleaning: Home Cleaning/Laundry
Attitudes and Trends around the World,” Global Home Care Report,
April 2016, p. 25,
49 “Number of People Living in
Poverty,” Human Progress, 2015, http://humanprogress.org/static/3003.
50 “Total GDP,” Human Progress,
51 Laili Wang, Xuemei Ding, Rui
Huang, and Xiongying Wu, “Choices and Using of Washing Machines in
Chinese Households,” International Journal of Consumer
Studies 38, no. 1 (January 2014): 104-9.
52 “Household Possession Rate of
Washing Machines,” Euromonitor, Global Market Information Database,
53 Swaminathan S. Anklesaria
Aiyar, “Twenty-Five Years of Indian Economic Reform,” Cato Policy
Analysis no. 803, October 26, 2016.
54 “Total GDP,” Human Progress,
55 Pramit Bhattacharya, “In
India, Washing Machines Top Computers in Popularity,”
Livemint, December 13, 2016,
56 “2,000,000 Women Walked Away
from Washday,” advertisement in LIFE Magazine,
April 24, 1950, pp. 117-19.
57 Toshiro Wakayama, Junjiro
Shintaku, and Tomofumi Amano, “What Panasonic Learned in China,”
Harvard Business Review, December 2012, https://hbr.org/2012/12/what-panasonic-learned-in-china.
58 Marian L. Tupy, “Africa Is
Growing Thanks to Capitalism,” CapX, July 22, 2016.
59 Nielson, “The Dirt on
Cleaning: Home Cleaning/Laundry Attitudes and Trends around the
60 Valerie A. Ramey, “Time Spent
in Home Production in the 20th Century: New Estimates from Old
Data,” NBER Working Paper no. 13985, National Bureau of Economic
Research, May 2008.
61 Ramey, “Time Spent in Home
Production in the 20th Century,” p. 11.
62 Ruth Schwartz Cowan, More
Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open
Hearth to the Microwave (New York: Basic Books, 1983), p. 100,
via Valerie A. Ramey, “Time Spent in Home Production in the 20th
Century,” p. 2.
63 Suzanne Lebsock, The Free
Women of Petersburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town,
1784-1860, rev. ed. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1985),
64 Quoted in George Frederick
Kengott, The Record of a City: A Social Survey of Lowell,
Massachusetts (Lowell: Macmillan Company, 1912), p. 15.
65 Harriet J. Farley, “Factory
Girls,” The Lowell Offering 2 (December 1840), pp. 17-20,
66 Alice Kessler-Harris, Out
to Work: a History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States,
20th anniversary ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), p.
67 Kessler-Harris, Out to
Work, p. 34.
68 Dublin, Farm to Factory:
Women’s Letters, 1830-1860.
69 “The Fall of the Pemberton
Mill,” New York Times, February 16, 1860.
70 Dublin, Farm to Factory:
Women’s Letters, 1830-1860, pp. 169, 180.
71 Dublin, Farm to Factory:
Women’s Letters, 1830-1860, p. 157.
72 Dublin, Farm to Factory:
Women’s Letters, 1830-1860, pp. 181, 192, 169.
73 Dublin, Farm to Factory:
Women’s Letters, 1830-1860, pp. 97-8.
74 Dublin, Farm to Factory:
Women’s Letters, 1830-1860, p. 99.
75 Lucy Larcom, A New England
Girlhood (Teddington, UK: Echo Library, 2007).
76 Dublin, Farm to Factory:
Women’s Letters, 1830-1860, pp. 129-30.
77 Dublin, Farm to Factory:
Women’s Letters, 1830-1860, p. 121.
78 Dublin, Farm to Factory:
Women’s Letters, 1830-1860, pp. 135-7.
79 Dublin, Farm to Factory:
Women’s Letters, 1830-1860, pp. 140-1.
80 Dublin, Farm to Factory:
Women’s Letters, 1830-1860, pp. 142-3.
81 “Free to Booze: The 75th
Anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition,” Cato Policy Forum,
December 5, 2008,
82 Robert J. Dinkin, Before
Equal Suffrage: Women in Partisan Politics from Colonial Times to
1920 (London: Greenwood Press, 1995), p. 40.
83 Dinkin, Before Equal
Suffrage, p. 42.
84 Lebsock, The Free Women of
Petersburg, p. 240.
85 Linton Weeks, “American Women
Who Were Anti-Suffragettes,” National Public Radio, October 22,
86 Sylvia Jenkins Cook, “ ‘Oh
Dear! How the Factory Girls Do Rig Up!’: Lowell’s Self-Fashioning
Workingwomen,” New England Quarterly 83, no. 2 (June
87 “Eliza Lucas Pinckney,
British-American Plantation Manager,” Encyclopædia Britannica,
88 Dylan C. Penningroth, The
Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the
Nineteenth-Century South (Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 2004), p. 53.
89 The United States Census of
1860 suggests 12.6 percent of the country’s population was
enslaved. See “Recapitulation of the Tables of Population,
Nativity, and Occupation,” 1860 Census: Population of the United
90 Lebsock, The Free Women of
Petersburg, p. 244.
91 Martha Louise Rayne, What
Can a Woman Do: Or, Her Position in the Business and Literary
World (Detroit: F. B. Dickerson, 1887).
92 Howard Markel, “Celebrating
Rebecca Lee Crumpler, First African-American Woman Physician,” PBS
News Hour, March 9, 2016,
and “Charlotte E. Ray: American Lawyer and Teacher,” Encyclopædia
93 Annie Marion MacLean,
Wage-Earning Women (New York: MacMillan, 1910), p. 3.
94 Claudia Goldin, “The Quiet
Revolution That Transformed Women’s Employment, Education, and
Family,” Richard T. Ely Lecture, AEA Papers and
Proceedings 96, no. 2 (May 2006),
95 “Indeed, the idea that paid
employment [is] the key to ending women’s subordinate status [has
been] subscribed to by a wide spectrum of opinion, from the World
Bank to Marxist scholars,” Naila Kabeer, The Power to Choose:
Bangladeshi Women and Labour Market Decisions in London and
Dhaka (London: Verso, 2000), p. 5.
96 Benjamin Powell, Out of
Poverty: Sweatshops in the Global Economy (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2014), p. 120.
97 McCloskey, “Postmodern Market
Feminism: Half of a Conversation with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak,”
98 Nicholas Kristof, “Where
Sweatshops Are a Dream,” New York Times, January 14,
99 Paul Krugman, “In Praise of
Cheap Labor,” Slate, March 1997; Kristof, “Where
Sweatshops Are a Dream”; and Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty:
Economic Possibilities for Our Time (New York: Penguin Press,
2005), p. 11.
100 Paul Krugman, quoted in Allen
R. Myerson, “In Principle, a Case for More Sweatshops,” New
York Times, June 22, 1997.
101 Leslie T. Chang, “The Voices
of Chinese Workers,” TED Talk, June 2012,
102 Chang, “The Voices of Chinese
103 This section draws largely on
104 Chang, “The Voices of Chinese
105 Leslie T. Chang, Factory
Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China (New York:
Spiegel & Grau, 2009).
106 Chang, Factory
Girls, p. 57.
107 “Women and Suicide in Rural
China,” Bulletin of the World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/87/12/09-011209/en/.
108 “Back from the Edge,” The
Economist, June 28, 2014; and Feng Sha, Paul S. F. Yip, and
Yik Wa Law, “Decomposing Change in China’s Suicide Rate, 1990-2010:
Ageing and Urbanisation,” Injury Prevention: Journal of the
International Society for Child and Adolescent Injury
Prevention 23, no. 1 (2017): 40-45, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27312962.
109 “Women and Suicide in Rural
110 Yuan Ren, “Young Chinese
Women Are Committing Suicide at a Terrifying Rate — Here’s
Why,” The Telegraph, October 20, 2016,
111 Jie Zhang, “Marriage and
Suicide among Chinese Rural Young Women,” Social Forces
89, no. 1 (September 2010): 319, 321.
112 Zhang, “Marriage and Suicide
among Chinese Rural Young Women,” pp. 319, 323.
113 Chang, Factory
Girls, p. 105.
114 “Back from the Edge,” The
Economist, June 28, 2014.
115 Chang, Factory
Girls, p. 27.
116 Chang, Factory
Girls, p. 280.
117 Chang, Factory
Girls, p. 279.
118 Chang, Factory
Girls, p. 404.
119 Zhongdang Ma, “Urban
Labour-Force Experience as a Determinant of Rural Occupation
Change: Evidence from Recent Urban-Rural Return Migration in
China,” Environment and Planning 33, no. 2 (February
120 Leslie T. Chang, “U.S. Misses
Full Truth on China Factory Workers,” CNN, October 1, 2012,
121 Chang, Factory
Girls, p. 224.
122 Chang, Factory
Girls, p. 333.
123 Chang, Factory
Girls, p. 383.
124 Chang, Factory
Girls, p. 383.
125 Kabeer, The Power to
Choose, p. 49. Please note, this section draws largely on her
126 “Globally There Are 746
Million People in Extreme Poverty (in 2013),” Our World in Data,
127 Kabeer, The Power to
Choose, p. 185.
128 Kabeer, The Power to
Choose, p. 69.
129 Kabeer, The Power to
Choose, p. 69.
130 “In Bangladesh, Empowering
and Employing Women in the Garments Sector,” World Bank, February
131 Powell, Out of Poverty:
Sweatshops in the Global Economy; and Kabeer, The Power to
Choose, p. 9.
132 Ben Jackson, Threadbare:
How the Rich Stitch Up the World’s Rag Trade (London: World
Development Movement, 1992), cited in Kabeer, The Power to
Choose, p. 9.
133 Quoted in Kabeer, The
Power to Choose, p. 13.
134 Daniel J. Ikenson, “Cutting
the Cord: Textile Trade Policy Needs Tough Love,” Cato Institute
Free Trade Bulletin no. 15, January 25, 2005,
and “Harmonized Tariff Schedule (2018 HTSA Revision 11), Section
XI: Textile and Textile Articles,” United States International
Trade Commission, https://hts.usitc.gov/current.
135 “The Happiest Economic Story
in the World Right Now,” Dhaka Tribune, June 4, 2017,
Rachel Heath and A. Mushfiq Mobarak, “Manufacturing Growth and the
Lives of Bangladeshi Women,” NBER Working Paper no. 20383, August
2014; and “Average Age of Women at First Marriage,” Human Progress,
136 “Women Who Were First Married
by Age 18,” Human Progress,
and “Average Age of Women at First Marriage.”
137 Saidur Rahman Mashreky,
Fazlur Rahman, and Aminur Rahman, “Suicide Kills More than 10,000
People Every Year in Bangladesh,” Archives of Suicide
Research 17, no. 4 (August 2013): 387-96.
138 Afroze Shahnaz, Christopher
Bagley, Padam Simkhada, and Sadia Kadri, “Suicidal Behaviour in
Bangladesh: A Scoping Literature Review and a Proposed Public
Health Prevention Model,” Journal of Social Sciences 5,
no. 7 (July 2017): 254-82.
139 “Suicide Mortality Rate (per
100,000 Population),” World Bank, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.STA.SUIC.P5?locations=BD.
140 Quoted in Kabeer, The
Power to Choose, p. 175.
141 Kabeer, The Power to
Choose, p. 92.
142 Kabeer, The Power to
Choose, p. 142.
143 Paul Ratje, “Domestic
Violence in Bangladesh — in Pictures,” The Guardian,
March 15, 2016,
144 Kabeer, The Power to
Choose, p. 128.
145 Kabeer, The Power to
Choose, p. 185.
146 Kabeer, The Power to
Choose, p. 172.
147 Quoted in Kabeer, The
Power to Choose, p. 171.
148 Kabeer, The Power to
Choose, p. 185.