When undertaking an analysis of gender roles in society, there are many different, yet intersecting, avenues that can be traveled. One such avenue is one of economic impetus, that is to say examining gender roles in a given society or culture through the lens of the economic realities that are present in said society or culture.
When pursuing an analysis of this nature, three questions must be asked and answered.
The first involves an examination of how economic circumstances influence and are influenced by other societal factors such as cultural or religious ideologies. For example, the lack of surplus food in some societies such as desert Arab groups in Niger has helped to shape what is seen as an ideal body image culturally, a prime example of economic circumstances influencing cultural ideals. Looking to the 17th century, it can be seen that cultural expectations of Dutch women to remain in the home and not to work severely limited economic opportunities for women outside the household, an instance of cultural ideals dictating economic realities.
The second line of questioning, which can be considered tangential to the first, regards how economic factors influence gender roles at different times and in different classes within a given society. While said society may have a certain set of cultural ideals, these ideals change over time and are adhered to at different levels by different socioeconomic classes. Once it has been generally determined how economic realities interact with existing ideals, it is important to examine how these economic forces influence different groups who are living under these ideals at different times.
The third and final facet of this examination deals with which economic mechanisms and forces are actually contributing to the grander interaction that establishes gender roles. The basic law of supply and demand, concepts like opportunity cost and diminishing marginal returns; these and more may have a significant role in shaping gender roles, and identifying these specific economic forces and the extent to which they shape gender roles is important.
It is important to note that to answer any one of these questions, all three need to be addressed; there is a significant amount of overlap that cannot be avoided. However breaking this discussion into three separate components is an effective way to more clearly address how economic factors influence gender roles.
All of these questions, even in their broadest sense, merit explanation, however more insight may be gained by taking a more focused approach. One particular aspect of the relationship between economics and gender roles that bears particular consideration is how economic prospects affect the division of tasks...