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Black Women and Work

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM

Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Hanover G
  • Chair: Jennifer Cohen, Miami University and University of the Witwatersrand

Beyond Income: Race, Work, and Health Inequalities among Women

Jennifer Cohen
Miami University and University of the Witwatersrand


Chetty et al. find that “[b]lack boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families,…still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds.” The finding does not hold for black girls, leading the authors to conclude that “there are a unique set of challenges for black men,” who also have much lower employment rates and are ten times more likely to be incarcerated than white men from similarly affluent backgrounds. But the precarious lives of black men are not lived in isolation. Racist, patriarchal, heteronormative familial and social contexts shape women’s lives, which entail relationships with fathers, sons, male partners, other family members, and communities. For many black women, structural racism's impacts on black men combine with a rigid interracial marriage market in which black women are the least likely demographic to intermarry, to result in a pool of potential male partners that is dramatically smaller and with far fewer economic resources than that of their white counterparts. As a result, the seemingly unique challenges for black men are in fact shared by black women. And while individual income may not vary by race for women from similar backgrounds, these challenges suggest that black women tend to have greater familial, financial, and caregiving responsibilities than white women at all levels of income. Black women’s efforts to sustain their families and communities in a racist, patriarchal, heteronormative society may have dire consequences for black women’s health.

Black Women and Non-Market Work: Theorizing the Community as a Site of Production

Nina Banks
Bucknell University


Using the lived experiences of black American women as a theoretical foundation, this analysis broadens our understanding of “work” by conceptualizing the community as a site of production. Feminist economists have called attention to the invisibility of women’s unpaid work within the private household. They have articulated the need to make women’s non-market household and volunteer work visible, quantifiable, and valued. Yet, feminist economists have not adequately addressed the invisible work that women perform collectively in order to address urgent community needs that arise out of racial-ethnic group disparities. To do so involves decentering the experiences of white women and, instead, developing theoretical frameworks that are based on the varied experiences of women by race, ethnicity, and social class in the U.S. The community looms large for black women and other women of color in the U.S. as a site of production in which they perform unpaid, collective work in order to improve the welfare of community members and address community needs not met by the public and private sectors.

Automation, AI, Robotics and Older Black Women Workers

Chandra Childers
Institute for Women’s Policy Research


Automation, artificial intelligence, and digitalization have spread rapidly, eliminating some jobs, changing the nature of work in others, and increasing the returns to digital skill; these trends are projected to accelerate substantially during the coming decades. To date, however, there has been little attention in either the research literature or public discussion of the potential gender differences in the impacts of such changes, let alone of the intersection of gender and race. Black women workers, and older Black women workers in particular, are likely to be negatively impacted by ongoing technological change. Black women are less likely than their White and Asian counterparts to have an associates or bachelor’s degree, they have unemployment rates twice that of their white counterpart during good economic times, and they are over-represented in occupations likely to be hit the hardest by technological change while at the same time often serving as social and economic anchors in their families and communities. Because of the potential of technology to not only displace older Black women but to negatively impact their broader community, we must begin addressing these issues now.

Gender Violence and Work: Evidence from Dominican Bateyes

Cruz Caridad Bueno
State University of New York-New Paltz


This paper explores the role of economic, political, and social factors in the incidence of intimate personal violence (IPV), through an examination of the extent to which two prominent theses on the determinants of IPV, the household bargaining model (HBM) and the male backlash model (MBM), best explains IPV in bateyes in the Dominican Republic. Bateyes are modern-day sugar plantations and the vast majority of workers in bateyes are of Haitian descent. Drawing on survey data from the Demographic and Health Survey, allows me to differentiate between physical and sexual IPV, explore the role of race/ethnicity and work status on Black women’s experiences of gender violence within the context of an export-oriented agricultural setting and a middle-income developing country. Preliminary findings suggest the need to reconsider broad programs and policies intended to prevent and ameliorate IPV in the Dominican Republic; and implement targeted initiatives focusing on the economic factors motivating them.

Does Land Still Matter? Gender and Land Reforms in Zimbabwe

Sirisha Naidu
Wright State University
Lyn Ossome
Makerere Institute of Social Research


Land reforms have been integral to the redressal of crises and inequalities precipitated or deepened by colonial capitalism. Since the late 1980s, however, land reforms have assumed a neoliberal character and much contemporary scholarship minimizes the significance of land redistribution. Yet the reality of ‘jobless growth’ under late capitalist expansion begs the question: what is the fate of the armies of proletarianised and semi-proletarianised labour that may no longer be accommodated by urban industrial economies? Employing a feminist radical political economy perspective, and basing our analysis on the role of women in rural subsistence economies, we seek to develop a perspective on what some recent scholarship has termed as the contemporary agrarian question of gender (inequity). Drawing on land and agrarian reform processes and accompanying changes in the agrarian structure in Zimbabwe, we argue that viewed through the prism of women’s labor, land retains significance both as a means of stabilizing societies under the duress of capitalism and as the primary mode of reproducing precarised and immiserated households.
Michelle Holder
City University of New York-John Jay College
Paddy Quick
St. Francis College
JEL Classifications
  • B5 - Current Heterodox Approaches
  • J1 - Demographic Economics