Does economic development contribute to and result in more ‘agency’, the power of individuals to decide for themselves? And is the reverse also true? Can we find a link between historical developments (e.g. the advent of literacy) and institutions (laws, family forms, political systems) which promoted agency and the actual economic developments in the various countries of the world? These questions are central in this research project.
Nobel Prize laureate Amartya Sen (1999) already argued that the ‘freedom’ to realize one’s potential is a major determinant and contributing factor of economic development. A crucial factor in this respect is ‘human capital formation’: education will increase the agency of people - enhance their possibilities to shape their own lives – and is at the same time an essential ingredient of economic development. We aim to study these interrelationships in depth, with a specific focus on gender. Given the crucial role of women in socialization (producing human capital of the new generation), we will look closely at (institutions creating) gender differences in agency.
Thus, we study the interaction between agency and economic development at two, interrelated levels: at the micro level of household and family formation (are men and women allowed and able to make their own choices in this respect, or are – for example – marriages arranged?) and at the macrolevel of the state (are people allowed and able to be involved in the political decision making process?). We have developed innovative ways to measure these variables on a global scale. This will allow us to contribute significantly to the important debates among social scientist and historians about these links. Moreover, we think that adding the dimension of gender will deepen the analysis of these relationships.