Gender, Care and Social Reproduction: why gender matters for care policy

3 February 2020

Professor Ruth Pearson and Professor Sue Himmelweit, Women’s Budget Group


The Women’s Budget Group argues that the analysis of theoretical and policy issues about care requires a gendered understanding of the processes and institutions of the economy and society. Although often overlooked, care is a vital part of social reproduction, the way in which any society, including its roles and relationships, is reproduced.

While other economists talk about the reproduction of productive roles and relationships, feminist economists have concentrated on what such accounts tend to ignore: the reproduction of people, their inevitable need for care at crucial times in their lives, and the changing roles of men and women in that process. Gendered roles and relationships over care both structure what it is possible for the economy to do, and are in turn affected by economic processes. Policy on care can therefore can have important economic effects, but may be a product of policy stances taken by those concerned by quite other issues (for example, neoliberalism is not typically defined by its stance on social reproduction, yet it has had significant effects on care).

A gendered analysis of care therefore requires going beyond a gendered breakdown of those needing, receiving giving and working in care activities to consider the ways in which our whole system of social reproduction is deeply gendered. This seminar will use such an argument in considering the overall direction of contemporary care policies. This will be evaluated for its impact not just on immediate care practices and on gender inequalities within them, but also for its likely effect on the reproduction of such gender inequalities. The seminar will go on to interrogate the ways in which care is different from other economic and social processes, and to consider why care has been marginalised in contemporary political discourse and debates.

Speakers' biographies

Professor Ruth Pearson

Ruth Pearson is Emeritus Professor of International Development at the University of Leeds. Her research has focused in issues of women, employment, migration and care in the global economy. She has carried out empirical research in Mexico, Argentina, Cuba, Jamaica, Thailand and Myanmar, as well as extensive work on the UK and Western Europe. She is a Co-Chair of the Women’s Budget Group ( and co-author of the 2016 PSA Commission report on Care (

Other relevant publications include: “Who Cares? Gender, Reproduction, and Care Chains of Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand”, Feminist Economics, 18:2, 149-175; (2015, Pearson, R., & Elson, D. (2015). Transcending the impact of the financial crisis in the United Kingdom: Towards plan F—a feminist economic strategy. Feminist Review, (109), 8-30.;“A feminist analysis of neoliberalism and austerity in the UK” Soundings Spring 2019

Professor Susan Himmelweit

Susan Himmelweit is Emeritus Professor of Economics at the Open University and Visiting Professor at the Department of Gender Studies at the London School of Economics. She is a feminist economist who research focuses on intra-household inequalities, the economics and policy of caring and the gender implications of economic and social policy. She is the coordinator of the policy advisory group of the Women’s Budget Group (WBG), the UK’s gender budgeting think tank, and was its founding chair. In 2009, she was the President of the International Association for Feminist Economics. She is a member of the Progressive Economy Forum’s Council of Economic Advisors and is and of the WBG’s Commission on a Gender-Equal Economy.

She is a co-author of two reports by the Women’s Budget Group for the International Trade Union Confederation and UN Women, on Investing in the Care Economy and is author of ‘Gender Equality Impact Assessment: A Core Element of Gender Budgeting’ in Gender Budgeting in Europe, Developments and Challenges (eds Angela O’Hagan and Elisabeth Klatzer), Palgrave 2018. She co-edited Economics and Austerity in Europe: Gendered impacts and Sustainable Alternatives (Routledge, 2016) and Rethinking Britain: Policy Ideas for the Many, Policy Press (2019). Her writings on care policy include a chapter on ‘Transforming care’ in Laurie Macfarlane (ed), New Thinking for the British-Economy, Open Democracy (2018).

Photos from the seminar

L-R Sue Himmelweit, Sue Yeandle, Ruth Pearson, Allister McGregor

Seminar in full swing at the University of Sheffield