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Women Liberated by Capitalism

Here’s a letter to TheAtlantic.com:

Dear Editor:

Emily Matchar correctly insists that the demise in home cooking was caused by industrialization and not by feminism (“Betty Friedan Did Not Kill Home Cooking,” Jan 25).  This point is important and it extends beyond the kitchen stove.  By raising women’s market wages – and by creating affordable automatic clothes washers, wrinkle-free fabrics, disposable diapers, and other such products that dramatically lessen the time required for housework – women today are better able than ever to choose to work outside of the home.  (Families increasingly enjoy, therefore, all the material benefits formerly produced by full-time housewives plus the extra goods and services that can be bought with incomes earned by working women.)

A comment of a young woman (born circa 1969) in the 1999 BBC reality show 1900 House is germane.  Hired to work as a housemaid in a house fitted out to be like one that was typical for middle-class Londoners in 1900, this late-20th-century woman soon became frustrated by the ceaseless and arduous work required to keep the 1900 house clean.  She remarked in surprise to the show’s producers and audience that she now realizes that the actual source of women’s liberation wasn’t so much political activism as it was “the carpet sweeper and domestic appliances that gave women their liberty because it saves so much time at working.”*

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* See especially around the 6:35 mark in the video.

If you read Matchar’s essay, do note also her apparent confusion regarding the causes of obesity; she draws, apparently from today’s negative correlation between income and obesity, the mistaken conclusion that income inequality causes obesity.