Gender Relations and Economic Development: Hypotheses About the Reversal of Fortune in Eurasia

  • Alexandra M. de Pleijt
  • Jan Luiten van Zanden
  • Sarah CarmichaelEmail author
Part of the Studies in Economic History book series (SEH)


This chapter develops an interrelated set of hypotheses about the links between gender relations, family systems and economic development in Eurasia. First, we briefly discuss a number of ideas from the recent literature about the links between gender relations and economic development. Second, we suggest a measure of historic gender relations via the classification and measurement of historical family systems and offer a set of maps of the institutions concerning marriage, inheritance and family formation that determine the degree of agency that women enjoyed at the micro level. Third, we discuss the possible explanation of the genesis of the Eurasian pattern in family systems and gender relations as a by-product of the spread of agriculture and the process of ancient state formation that followed the Neolithic Revolution 10,000 years ago. Finally, we link these patterns in family systems and female agency to economic growth after 1500. We empirically demonstrate that high female agency and per capita GDP between 1800 and 2000 are related. The ‘reversal of fortune’ that happened within Eurasia between 1000 and 2000, whereby the ancient centres of state formation and urbanization in the Middle East, India and China were overtaken by regions at the margin of the continent (Western Europe, Japan, Korea), can in our view be linked to this spatial pattern in gender relations and family systems found there.


Gender relations Economic development Eurasia 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandra M. de Pleijt
    • 1
  • Jan Luiten van Zanden
    • 2
  • Sarah Carmichael
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.University of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Utrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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