The Gender of Capital

Online - hosted via Zoom
Monday 22 January 2024 (13:00-14:00)

With speakers Céline Bessière, Professor of Sociology, Paris Dauphine University (PSL University) and Sibylle Gollac, Research Fellow in Sociology, National Center for Scientific Research in France

In many countries, property law grants equal rights to men and women. Why, then, do women still accumulate less wealth than men? Combining quantitative, ethnographic, and archival research, The Gender of Capital explains how and why, in every class of society, women are economically disadvantaged with respect to their husbands, fathers and brothers. The reasons lie with the unfair economic arrangements that play out in divorce proceedings, estate planning, and other crucial situations where law and family life intersect.

We argue that, whatever the law intends, too many outcomes are imprinted with unthought sexism. In private decisions, old habits die hard: families continue to allocate resources disproportionately to benefit boys and men. Meanwhile, the legal profession remains in thrall to assumptions that reinforce gender inequality. We marshal a range of economic data documenting these biases. We also examine scores of family histories and interview family members, lawyers, and notaries to identify the accounting tricks that tip the scales in favour of men.

Women across the class spectrum—from poor single mothers to MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos—can face systematic economic disadvantages in divorce cases. The same is true in matters of inheritance and succession in family-owned businesses. Moreover, these disadvantages perpetuate broader social disparities beyond gender inequality. The appropriation of capital by men has helped to secure the rigid hierarchies of contemporary class society itself.

The speakers

Céline Bessière is currently a Professor of sociology at Paris Dauphine University (PSL University) and a senior member at the Institut Universitaire de France. She is the author of a book on Cognac winegrowing family businesses (De génération en génération, Paris : Raisons d’Agir 2010).

Sibylle Gollac is a Research Fellow in Sociology at the National Center for Scientific Research in France. In her PhD thesis, “La pierre de discorde”, she analyzed family real estate strategies in contemporary France.

Their research work is at the crossroads of several fields: economic sociology, sociology of law and justice, sociology of gender, class and family. They both co-authored The Gender of Capital

(Harvard University Press, 2023), a book that demonstrates the existence of a gender wealth gap in formally egalitarian societies and analyzes the social mechanisms that cause it within the family, as revealed in moments of marital breakdown and inheritance. In France, The Gender of Capital was recently adapted into a graphic novel with Jeanne Puchol (Paris, La Découverte/Delcourt, 2023). Céline and Sibylle are also co-authors of a book drawing on a vast research on family courts in France (Collectif Onze, Au tribunal des couples, Paris: Odile Jacob, 2013; adapted into a graphic novel, by Baptiste Virot Casterman, 2020). 

If you would like to attend this online CHASM Seminar, please email Helen Harris – – with your contact details, and the Zoom link will be sent to you.