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Parasitic-Industries Analysis and Arguments for a Living Wage for Women in the Early Twentieth-Century United States


  • Marilyn Power


This paper examines arguments by activists and economists surrounding attempts to establish minimum wages for women in the United States in the Progressive Era. In particular, the paper focuses on analyses based on Beatrice and SidneyWebbs' argument that industries paying less than a living wage were "parasitic" on the society, a net drain on macro-efficiency. This analysis, widely accepted among economists of the time, viewed women as particularly vulnerable workers facing labor markets that were institutionally constructed and predatory. Unequal gender roles, employer power, and the absence of collective bargaining could all result in wages that were socially unacceptable as well as economically nonoptimal. These debates offer insights for modern feminist wage theories, and for current living wage campaigns.

Suggested Citation

  • Marilyn Power, 1999. "Parasitic-Industries Analysis and Arguments for a Living Wage for Women in the Early Twentieth-Century United States," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 5(1), pages 61-78.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:femeco:v:5:y:1999:i:1:p:61-78
    DOI: 10.1080/135457099338157

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Duncan Ironmonger, 1996. "Counting outputs, capital inputs and caring labor: Estimating gross household product," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 2(3), pages 37-64.
    2. Kathleen Cloud & Nancy Garrett, 1997. "A Modest Proposal for Inclusion of Women's Household Human Capital Production in Analysis of Structural Transformation," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 3(1), pages 151-177.
    3. Beneria, Lourdes, 1992. "Accounting for women's work: the progress of two decades," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 20(11), pages 1547-1560, November.
    4. Dorothy W. Douglas, 1920. "The Cost of Living for Working Women: A Criticism of Current Theories," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 34(2), pages 225-259.
    5. Diana Strassmann, 1993. "The Stories of Economics and the Power of the Storyteller," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 25(1), pages 147-165, Spring.
    6. Deborah Figart, 1997. "Gender as More Than a Dummy Variable: Feminist Approaches to Discrimination," Review of Social Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 55(1), pages 1-32.
    7. F. W. Taussig, 1916. "Minimum Wages for Women," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 30(3), pages 411-442.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bruce E. Kaufman, 2009. "Promoting Labour Market Efficiency and Fairness through a Legal Minimum Wage: The Webbs and the Social Cost of Labour," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 47(2), pages 306-326, June.
    2. Seguino, Stephanie, 2003. "Taking gender differences in bargaining power seriously: Equity, labor standards, and living wages," MPRA Paper 6508, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Oct 2003.
    3. repec:mes:jeciss:v:39:y:2005:i:2:p:439-445 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Robert E. Prasch, 2005. "The Social Cost of Labor," Journal of Economic Issues, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 39(2), pages 439-445, June.
    5. Ellen Mutari & Deborah Figart & Marilyn Power, 2001. "Implicit Wage Theories in Equal Pay Debates in the United States," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 7(2), pages 23-52.


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