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Profiles: Lourdes Beneria (1937-)

By Johann Gautier | 2023



Key works

  • Lourdes Benería, “Reproduction, production and the sexual division of labor,” Cambridge Journal of Economics 3, 3 (1979): 203-225. 

  • Lourdes Benería and Gita Sen, “Accumulation, Reproduction, and ‘Women’s Role in Economic Development’: Boserup Revisited,” Signs 7, 2 (1981): 279.

  • Lourdes Benería and Gita Sen, “Class and Gender Inequalities and Women’s Role in Economic Development: Theoretical and Practical Implications,” Feminist Studies 8, 1 (1982): 157-176.

  • Celia Amorós, Lourdes Beneria, Christine Delphy, Hilary Rose, and Verena Stolcke, Mujeres: Ciencia y Práctica Política (Madrid: Editorial Debate, 1987).

  • Lourdes Benería and Martha Roldán, The Crossroads of Class and Gender: Industrial Homework, Subcontracting, and Household Dynamics in Mexico City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987). 

  • Lourdes Benería, “Accounting for Women’s Work: The Progress of Two Decades,” World Development 20, 11 (1992): 1547-1560.

  • Lourdes Benería, “Towards a greater integration of gender in economics,” World Development 23, 11 (1995): 1839-1850.


International economic thinker, champion of women’s economic and social rights

A Spanish-American economist, Lourdes Benería has worked for the International Labor Organization (ILO) and provided consulting services to the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), and the United Nations Institute for Social Development (UNRISD). She has served on several UN committees and directed the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE). She received her PhD in economics from Columbia University in 1975 and went on to teach at Rutgers and Cornell Universities.[1] Her research focused on the underestimation of women’s work and the effects of structural adjustment policies in developing countries, which led to a massive undervaluation of the work force and production output. Her field studies in Latin America as part of her academic and institutional research informed her thinking on the links between the informal economy, gender dynamics, and development on a global scale.[1] In the 1970s and 1980s, her work paved the way for reflections on the role of women in global economic governance and she pioneered a feminist approach to challenge Keynesian, Marxist, and monetarist economic theories.[2] Her avant-garde critique of inequalities between developing and industrialized countries and of gender discrimination echoed debates on dependency theory, to which she added a third dimension in the nexus between the dominant and the dominated: the role of international organizations in reflecting and mediating the struggle for women’s social and economic rights.[8]

“The girl from the mountains” 

Lourdes Benería’s personal story resembles in many ways the trajectory of Nobel laureate Annie Ernaux. Born in 1937 in Bohí, a small Pyrenean village in the province of Lleida, Benería witnessed the transition from subsistence living in a remote valley with no infrastructure (she recalls that the village had no roads or cars, and her father traveled by horseback) to a globalized tourist economy focused on winter sports. With the financial support of her older brother, she entered the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona to study economics. There, she was thrown into a bourgeois, urban life she knew nothing about. The social shock was great, and at first she met this new world in shameful silence because of her “mountain accent.” But soon she was determined to become a polyglot: She spoke Catalan from the mountains, Catalan from Barcelona, Spanish, and, thanks to university exchanges in Paris and London, French and English. She was not only socially unprepared: There were only 3 women among 70 economics students in her class, and the other two soon dropped out. But as fate would have it, she proved to be the best student with the most original ideas, and in the early 1970s she won a Fulbright scholarship to earn a PhD at Columbia University.[2] Thus, she was one of the first graduates in economics in Catalonia and one of the first Spanish academics to go abroad.[7]

One is not born a woman international economic thinker, but becomes one. 

Her choice of economics was almost accidental. The subject was “new” to the University of Barcelona: It was the first year that the university offered economics courses. She had no idea what she was going into, but she knew she didn’t want to do what all the other women were doing (humanities, pharmacy, etc.). While a PhD student, Benería did not want to study “women’s issues”, she wanted to do “the same thing that the boys did.” She decided to write her thesis about economic growth and education in Spain during the Franco period. But as she was looking for data, she realized most economic data available had a gender breakdown. Although she did not tackle this aspect in her dissertation, she kept aside the data she collected and used it in later works.[2] 

She was already experiencing family life and motherhood in the 1970s, her discovery of New York confirmed her encounter with the activist, academic and institutional feminist movements of the time. The year she received her doctorate, the UN declared 1975 the International Year of Women and funded several projects to promote women’s economic and social rights around the world, soon followed by the ILO and the World Bank. Benería joined the ILO in 1977 and coordinated the Program on Rural Women and the World Employment Program. Her feminist approach to rural and Third World development problems led her to collaborate with Gita Sen, the first chairperson of the External Gender Consultative Group to the World Bank.[3] Together, they contributed to the dissemination and rediscovery of Ester Boserup’s work on women and development.[4]

International economic thinking on the field

In the early 1980s, Benería collaborated with Martha Roldán, a researcher of the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas y Tecnicas and a professor in the department of the Social Sciences of Work at Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales in Buenos Aires. They conducted fieldwork in Mexico City in 1981-82 to collect data on the lives of women workers in the industrial sector. Their approach proposes a radical redefinition of business activities by highlighting the glocal dimension of economic global integration through subcontracting: their book traces the stages of production from the home to the worker to the workplace to the manufacturer (often a multinational corporation).[5]

Lourdes Benería’s legacy

In 2022, the Universitat Rovira i Virgili of Tarragona awarded her an honorary degree in economics for her critique of the androcentric definition of the economy by the United Nations System of National Accounts and the specific impact of structural adjustments policies imposed by the IMF and the World Bank to developing regions have on women.[7] Benería’s pioneering gender approach to development policies have durably impacted the international debate and finds its legacy in the gender mainstreaming of international organizations.[6] As importantly, throughout her academic training, Benería never ever met a woman professor of economics—a gender bias that has been characteristic of the profession and still persists today.[9] Benería, herself, was noted appointed in an economics department but she became the first woman to obtain a professorship in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, in charge of the Gender, Feminism and Sexuality Studies Area, at Cornell University, in the period 1987-2010. In contrast, the recognition she received from the international organizations with which she collaborated shows that feminist international economic thinking and interest in women and economic development did not emanate from academic economics, but from activist groups, international nongovernmental organizations, and international platforms.[8]

As retired, emeritus professor, Benería continues to contribute to a feminist understanding of contemporary economic globalization, migration, and the environmental crisis. Her latest studies analyze the impact of the feminization of international migration and the effects of the 2008 crisis on the labor market and precariousness.[7] She highlights how the care work carried out by immigrant women, for example, in Spain, has served to replace, in some cases, Spanish women in the household sphere and how they have been able to devote more time to the sphere of paid work.[5] 

Selected publications: 

  • Lourdes Benería, “Reproduction, production and the sexual division of labor,” Cambridge Journal of Economics3, 3 (1979): 203-225. 

  • Lourdes Benería and Gita Sen, “Accumulation, Reproduction, and ‘Women’s Role in Economic Development’: Boserup Revisited,” Signs 7, 2 (1981): 279.

  • Lourdes Benería and Gita Sen, “Class and Gender Inequalities and Women’s Role in Economic Development: Theoretical and Practical Implications,” Feminist Studies 8, 1 (1982): 157-176.

  • Celia Amorós, Lourdes Beneria, Christine Delphy, Hilary Rose, and Verena Stolcke, Mujeres: Ciencia y Práctica Política (Madrid: Editorial Debate, 1987).

  • Lourdes Benería and Martha Roldán, The Crossroads of Class and Gender: Industrial Homework, Subcontracting, and Household Dynamics in Mexico City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987). 

  • Lourdes Benería, “Accounting for Women’s Work: The Progress of Two Decades,” World Development 20, 11 (1992): 1547-1560.

  • Lourdes Benería, “Towards a greater integration of gender in economics,” World Development 23, 11 (1995): 1839-1850. 

  • Lourdes Benería, “Los costes sociales del ajuste estructural en América Latina. ¿Está superada la crisis?” Mientras tanto, 61 (1995): 109-126. 

  • Lourdes Benería, “Karl Polanyi, la construcción del mercado global y la “diferencia” de género,” Mientras tanto, 71 (1998): 81-101.

  • Lourdes Benería, “Globalization, Gender and the Davos Man,” Feminist Economics 5, 3 (1999): 61-83.

  • Lourdes Benería, Günseli Berik and Maria S. Floro, Gender, Development and Globalization: Economics as If All People Mattered (New York: Routledge, 2003). 

  • Lourdes Benería, “The World Bank and Gender Inequality,” Global Social Policy 12, 2 (2012): 175-178.

  • Lourdes Benería, “Neoliberalism and the Global Economic Crisis: A View from Feminist Economics,” in Under Development: Gender eds. Christine Verschuur, Isabelle Guérin, and Hélène Guétat-Bernard (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 257-285.


[1] Lourdes Benería, ‘Los costes sociales del ajuste estructural en América Latina. ¿Está superada la crisis?’, Mientras tanto, 61 (1995): 109-126. 

[2] Lourdes Benería, ‘Karl Polanyi, la construcción del mercado global y la “diferencia” de género’, Mientras tanto, 71 (1998): 81-101. 

[3] The World Bank Group Archives, ‘NGO Issues Steering Group Meeting,” Folder No. 1458408, WB IBRD/IDA WB_IBRD/IDA_91-04-04, 16 May 1997.

[4] Lourdes Benería and Gita Sen, “Accumulation, Reproduction, and ‘Women’s Role in Economic Development’: Boserup Revisited,” Signs 7, 2 (1981): 279. For other collaborations, see Lourdes Benería and Gita Sen, “Class and Gender Inequalities and Women’s Role in Economic Development: Theoretical and Practical Implications,” Feminist Studies 8, 1 (1982): 157-176.

[5] Lourdes Benería and Martha Roldán, The Crossroads of Class and Gender: Industrial Homework, Subcontracting, and Household Dynamics in Mexico City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).

[6] Lourdes Benería, “The World Bank and Gender Inequality,” Global Social Policy 12, 2 (2012): 175-178. 

[7] Lourdes Benería, “Neoliberalism and the Global Economic Crisis: A View from Feminist Economics,” in Under Development: Gender eds. Christine Verschuur, Isabelle Guérin, and Hélène Guétat-Bernard (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 257-285. 


Reference anything from this site as:

Gautier, Johanna (2023) 'International Economic Thinkers-Profile: Lourdes Benería, ECOINT IET Profile #4, available at: www.ecoint.org/post/beneria

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