Article: Poverty and the Hidden Effects of Sex Discrimination: An Empirical Study of Inequality

Article: Gregory R. Day & Salvatore J. Russo, Poverty and the Hidden Effects of Sex Discrimination: An Empirical Study of Inequality, 37 Penn. J. Int’l L. 1183 (2016).

Sexist laws are more prevalent in regions where poverty is endemic. The corollary is true as well: the places where women tend to experience better treatment are typically more highly developed. The legal academy has drawn several inferences from this observation, including the observations that poverty and the development process appear to be detrimental to women’s rights. But despite the strength of this relationship, few legal studies seek to understand precisely why gender inequality seems to be inextricably linked to poverty.

Our research finds the opposite of what is generally assumed: the act of depriving women of fundamental rights is the very cause of underdevelopment. First, using a law and economic approach, sexist laws appear to create perverse behavioral incentives whereby actors rationally engage in inefficient behaviors. This is because sexist laws, in contrast to other forms of discrimination, burden society’s basic economic unit—the family. For instance, regions that prohibit women from earning a wage depress the rate of investment since single-income families must approach the market overcautiously. These deductions are then supported by an original empirical analysis, which indicates that gender inequality and poverty are significantly and powerfully connected. Sexist laws are thus less the result of underdevelopment as much as its very cause.

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