chapter  12
22 Pages

Institutional Constraints and Intra-Family Inequalities in Access to Education: Swiss Federalism and the Gendered Well-Being of Siblings, 1880–1930

The inclusion of gender in models of family history has helped challenge the assumption that families are harmonious units which can be treated as aggregates (Sarasúa 1998: 174, Praz 2007; see also Chapter 11). The household economic approach to the family (Anderson 1996) – inspired by models of neo-institutional economics (Pollack 1985) – has shown how property rights and social norms shape the distribution of resources, and hence the bargaining power and decision-making processes of family members. As Moch and colleagues (1987) have pointed out, intra-family inequalities are not only determined by market processes; legal and cultural frameworks play a significant role, as the status of an individual in the family is related to the position of their social category in contemporary society. Since social categorization by sex is historically the most pervasive, we should posit gender as a central force shaping the unequal access to family resources, and the ensuing unequal allocation of well-being among family members. Focusing on each member, and not on the family as an aggregate, also fits with the methodological stance of Sen’s capability approach (Sen 1985). It is each person’s capabilities – their opportunities and freedom to achieve well-being and agency – that must be considered, and not those of families, groups, states, or other corporate bodies (Nussbaum 2000; see also Chapter 2).