Inequality between men and women has been associated with economic backwardness. Although the causes of gender inequality were disputed, in the 1950s and 1960s, it was widely held that forces unleashed in economic development would lead to a convergence in the status and well-being of men and women.1 For example, modernization theorists argued that increasing reliance on impersonal markets to allocate economic resources was incompatible with discrimination. Moreover structural changes, associated with development, such as the increasing relative importance of manufacturing and at a later stage the rapid growth of the service sector, were thought to facilitate women’s involvement in production and therefore to increase their economic value. In turn women’s economic usefulness was seen as a key determinant of their relative status and well-being.2 But current research has questioned the spontaneity of links between the level of development and women’s relative status. Behind this retreat from easy generalizations has been an accumulation of evidence suggesting significant differences in the extent, pattern and terms of women’s involvement in paid work in countries at similar levels of development. If the comparative static fit between gender roles and economic structure looks less than tidy,the implication is that there may be only a weak correspondence between women’s relative well-being and economic development.
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