Counting Women's Labor: A Reanalysis of Children's Net Production in Mead Cain's Bangladeshi Village

Rachel Sullivan, University of California, Berkeley
Karen L. Kramer, Stony Brook University, State University of New York

Due to the inherent difficulties in valuing women’s and children’s labor in pre-industrial economies, their time inputs are frequently excluded from analyses of net production, understating female net production and overstating that of men. Here we combine data from Mead Cain’s seminal (1977) study of children’s economic contributions in a Bangladeshi village with unusual data on the productivity of males and females by age in a variety of agricultural and domestic tasks from a Maya village practicing extensive subsistence agriculture. Incorporating the value of female labor raises the estimated age at which boys produce as much daily as they consume from 9 to 12 years (crossover age) and raises the age at which their cumulative production equals their cumulative consumption (breakeven age) to between 30 and 50. Girls cross over 1.5 years earlier than boys and break even substantially earlier, in their mid-20s. We believe these methods could be usefully applied in other contexts.

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Presented in Session 77: Intergenerational Exchanges in Transitional Societies