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New Ways to Measure Economic Activity: Breastfeeding as an Economic Indicator

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How Gender Can Transform the Social Sciences


Breastfeeding and human milk provides an archetypical illustration of how feminist economic analysis has contributed new ways of thinking, and approaches to policymaking. Breastfeeding is an example of how the economy is mismeasured: the market value of milk formula production and sales are counted in a nation’s GDP, but the value of breast milk production is not. This is despite the fact that women and children who have not breastfed have higher rates of illness, chronic disease and hospitalisation. The financial costs to the health system and to families of this additional illness and disease are (perversely) counted as increasing GDP. In 2016, a path-breaking study estimated that premature cessation of breastfeeding cost the global economy around $300 billion a year due to diminished human capital.

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Key Readings

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Correspondence to Julie P. Smith .

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Smith, J.P., Folbre, N. (2020). New Ways to Measure Economic Activity: Breastfeeding as an Economic Indicator. In: Sawer, M., Jenkins, F., Downing, K. (eds) How Gender Can Transform the Social Sciences. Palgrave Pivot, Cham.

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  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Pivot, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-030-43235-5

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-030-43236-2

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