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The Gender of Capital: How Families Perpetuate Wealth Inequality by Celine Bessiere

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Two leading social scientists examine the gender wealth gap in countries with officially egalitarian property law, showing how legal professionals-wittingly and unwittingly-help rich families and men maintain their privilege.

In many countries, property law grants equal rights to men and women. Why, then, do women still accumulate less wealth than men? Combining quantitative, ethnographic, and archival research, The Gender of Capital explains how and why, in every class of society, women are economically disadvantaged with respect to their husbands, fathers, and brothers. The reasons lie with the unfair economic arrangements that play out in divorce proceedings, estate planning, and other crucial situations where law and family life intersect.

Celine Bessiere and Sibylle Gollac argue that, whatever the law intends, too many outcomes are imprinted with unthought sexism. In private decisions, old habits die hard: families continue to allocate resources disproportionately to benefit boys and men. Meanwhile, the legal profession remains in thrall to assumptions that reinforce gender inequality. Bessiere and Gollac marshal a range of economic data documenting these biases. They also examine scores of family histories and interview family members, lawyers, and notaries to identify the accounting tricks that tip the scales in favor of men.

Women across the class spectrum-from poor single mothers to MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos-can face systematic economic disadvantages in divorce cases. The same is true in matters of inheritance and succession in family-owned businesses. Moreover, these disadvantages perpetuate broader social disparities beyond gender inequality. As Bessiere and Gollac make clear, the appropriation of capital by men has helped to secure the rigid hierarchies of contemporary class society itself.

About the Author
Celine Bessiere is Professor of Sociology at Paris-Dauphine University. Sibylle Gollac is a research fellow in Sociology at the National Center for Scientific Research in France.

An important intervention...The authors effortlessly interweave qualitative and quantitative data; they elucidate statistics through engaging prose, and balance this by including personal narratives and interviews with a variety of people. * LSE Review of Books *
This book was enjoyable and thought-provoking...It brought together a wealth of different kinds of evidence in a methodologically-rigorous and theoretically-rich exploration of an important topic that deserves more attention. I highly recommend it to all those interested in wealth inequality. -- Karen Rowlingson * British Journal of Sociology *
Because the distribution of wealth rather than income plays a dominant role in determining inequality, more attention will need to be paid to the gender distribution of wealth. This book shines a light on this under-researched area. -- Ian Bright * Society of Professional Economics *
A fantastic, must-read book. If you want to know why gender inequality in wealth remains enormously high, and even has risen in recent decades, this work should be at the top of your reading list. Bessiere and Gollac deftly disentangle the complex processes of estate planning, divorce proceedings, and marital arrangements that have brought us to this point. -- Thomas Piketty, author of A Brief History of Equality
The Gender of Capital is a rare gem. Illuminating entrenched social and legal practices, Bessiere and Gollac expertly demonstrate the grip of gender inequality in shaping the transmission of wealth. Their discoveries deserve a broad audience, and undoubtedly will shape the direction of future research. -- Viviana A. Zelizer, author of Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy
Richly documented and incisively argued, this book offers new insight into how unequal relations between women and men are reproduced over many generations. For those of us who have been doing feminist work for a long time, it offers welcome confirmation that gender is an important determinant of inequality, both within and across divisions of class. -- Joan Wallach Scott, author of Sex and Secularism
An important new chapter in the history of wealth inequality. In a fascinating account of legal and family practices surrounding bequests and divorce, Bessiere and Gollac reveal the mechanisms through which wealth accumulates mostly in the hands of men. -- Jens Beckert, author of Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics
At last, a book that addresses the notable omission of gender from the conversation about wealth inequality. Taking seriously the contributions of 1970s and 1980s socialist feminists, Bessiere and Gollac show how the practice of family and inheritance law drives the gender wealth gap. One can only hope that scholars in the United States will pursue future work following this model. -- Cynthia Grant Bowman, author of Living Apart Together: Legal Protections for a New Form of Family

Short-listed for French-American Foundation Translation Prize 2024 (United States).

Book Information
ISBN 9780674271791
Author Celine Bessiere
Format Hardback
Page Count 344
Imprint Harvard University Press
Publisher Harvard University Press
Weight(grams) 635g
Dimensions(mm) 235mm * 156mm * 28mm


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