In her dissertation, Sarah Carmichael explores the historical underpinnings of current day gender inequalities at a global scale, with a focus on female agency (the degree of control people have over their own lives). She concludes that long-term inequality is determined by cultural institutions as well as economic development.
Carmichael's PhD research brings together different explorations of the position of women both historically and today, which attempt to draw out ways in which differences in gender equality between countries are historically determined, and what the effects of such differences are for the transmission of human capital to the next generation.
A concerted attempt is made to show the institutional roots of outcomes today and over time by employing various measures of the ways families organize themselves, as well as of various dimensions of gender inequality.
This long-term perspective is of use in capturing the root causes of women’s disadvantages, and seeks to provide insight into factors that policies to address systemic inequalities need to take into account.
The three inter-related research questions which are addressed in this book are:
1) How can we (best) measure female agency in the past?
Most important findings: multi-dimensional measures of the position of women allow the most scope for analysis, but that where historical data is lacking variables which capture family-organisation provide a viable alternative and one which shows important global variation.
2) What are the determinants of gender inequality?
Most important findings: in general, persistent inequality is as much determined by broad cultural institutions (including family practices) as it is by developments on the economic front.
3) What are the effects of greater equality on development, broadly construed?
Most important findings: greater gender equality leads to greater human capital formation of children.