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Designing Women: Consumer Goods Innovations in Britain, France and the United States, 1750-1900

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  • B. Zorina Khan
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    Economic studies typically underestimate incremental changes in consumer goods and design innovations that enhance allocative efficiency and structural dynamics. This paper assesses over 12,000 innovations by female patentees and participants in industrial fairs and prize-granting institutions in Britain, France and the United States, compared to parallel samples of some 60,000 patented and unpatented innovations by men. These data uniquely allow for the systematic assessment of women’s creativity within the nonmarket household sector and outside the patent system. The analysis distinguishes between improvements in consumer final goods, changes in designs, and other forms of technological creativity. The results indicate that women, especially nonpatentees, were significantly more likely than men to be associated with innovations in consumer final goods and design-oriented products at the boundary of art and technology. Even those who did not commercialize their products or work outside the home pursued such improvements to benefit their families. The patterns suggest that framing women’s creativity in terms of a “gender difference” rather than a “gender gap” might yield useful analytical insights. A general implication is that, by inaccurately gauging consumer innovations within the household and in the market, economic research likely underestimates the extent of technological progress and advances in welfare.

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    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 23086.

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    Date of creation: Jan 2017
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23086
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    1. Sokoloff, Kenneth L., 1988. "Inventive Activity in Early Industrial America: Evidence From Patent Records, 1790–1846," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 48(04), pages 813-850, December.
    2. Paula Stephan & Asmaa El-Ganainy, 2007. "The entrepreneurial puzzle: explaining the gender gap," The Journal of Technology Transfer, Springer, vol. 32(5), pages 475-487, October.
    3. Hunt, Jennifer & Garant, Jean-Philippe & Herman, Hannah & Munroe, David J., 2013. "Why are women underrepresented amongst patentees?," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 42(4), pages 831-843.
    4. Mark Bils & Peter J. Klenow, 2001. "The Acceleration of Variety Growth," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 274-280, May.
    5. B. Zorina Khan, 2014. "Of Time and Space: Technological Spillovers among Patents and Unpatented Innovations during Early U.S. Industrialization," NBER Working Papers 20732, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Petra Moser & Tom Nicholas, 2013. "Prizes, Publicity and Patents: Non-Monetary Awards as a Mechanism to Encourage Innovation," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 61(3), pages 763-788, 09.
    7. Romer, Paul M, 1990. "Endogenous Technological Change," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(5), pages 71-102, October.
    8. Bianchi, Marina, 2002. "Novelty, preferences, and fashion: when goods are unsettling," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 47(1), pages 1-18, January.
    9. Judy Wajcman, 2010. "Feminist theories of technology," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 34(1), pages 143-152, January.
    10. Khan, B. Zorina, 1996. "Married Women's Property Laws and Female Commercial Activity: Evidence from United States Patent Records, 1790–1895," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 56(02), pages 356-388, June.
    11. Zorina Khan & Kenneth L. Sokoloff, 2004. "Institutions and Democratic Invention in 19th-Century America: Evidence from "Great Inventors," 1790-1930," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(2), pages 395-401, May.
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