The Feminine Vocation and the Economy

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In his apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem, Pope John Paul II dedicates chapter six to his meditation on "virginity and motherhood as two particular dimensions of the fulfillment of the female personality." (1) These two dimensions, "[i]n the light of the Gospel, ... acquire their full meaning and value in Mary," in whom virginity and motherhood coexist without exclusion or limitations. (2) Thus, Mary "helps everyone--especially women--to see how these two dimensions, these two paths in the vocation of women as persons, explain and complete each other." (3) Both dimensions of the female personality reflect two essential characteristics of women: openness to or capacity for the other and gift of self. This Article analyzes how these two dimensions of the female personality are integrated in economic activity and their relevance for sustainable economic growth.

The vocational dimension is not an economic issue but a reality much greater than the scope of any social science. It is a supernatural reality, albeit with human connotations because the one who receives a vocation is a human person. This Article suggests, however, that the essential characteristics of women reflected in these two vocational dimensions are relevant to the economic process. These characteristics are especially beneficial in the production of both human and social capital in the family and elsewhere. (4) Furthermore, woman's openness to or capacity for the other facilitates effective and efficient distribution within the economy. (5) This is specifically evident in work inside the home; it is also necessary for work conducted outside the home.

Motherhood, in the natural order of things, is the fruit of the marriage union of a man and a woman. Parenthood is shared by both the father and the mother. This suggests that men not only have a role as fathers, but a clear and unique vocation as well. Furthermore, it also suggests that a careful consideration of the role of woman in the economy cannot ignore the unique contribution of men. A complete family requires both a father and a mother. Since this Article focuses on the vocation of women, however, a full discussion of the role of men within the economy is beyond its scope. Still, this way of proceeding does not intend to underplay the role and vocation of men.

To address the relationship between women and economics, characteristics of the family and how the economy relates to these characteristics must be considered. A child normally comes into the world within a family, and it is within a family that the child first develops, that is, achieves personal progress and maturity. Even a single woman has a family; she is born into and belongs to one, whether or not she lives with her parents or siblings. In this sense the family is the first and the most fundamental place where economic activity begins and acquires its meaning. The analysis needs to start here in order to explain how the feminine characteristics previously mentioned fit into economic activity. For a life to be conceived, a mother and a father are needed. To come to term and be born, a child needs the mother's body. Evidence across social science indicates that from an economic point of view, healthy families are important because they directly impact human, moral, and social capital, therefore impacting resource use, economic activity, economic structures, and wealth accumulation--all of which are necessary for sustainable economic growth. (6) Empirical evidence also shows that when the family is disrupted, the individual and social costs are very substantial. (7)

The application of economic analysis to the study of the family has become a common practice in the last three or more decades. (8) This has attracted special interest to analysis on the decisions process of the economic agent, in this case the woman, as it relates to the family. (9) Gary Becker's groundbreaking work in this area has shaped this development in many ways. …