Mises Wire

Can There Be an Alliance between Austrian and Feminist Schools of Economics?

From time to time, similarities are pointed out between two heterodox schools of economic thought: the Austrian and the feminist. Among the common characteristics are critiques of neoclassical assumptions about the mathematization of economics and a focus solely on economic issues to the exclusion of social and cultural ones. However, it seems that these commonalities are only superficial, and in reality, these schools are more divided than united.

At the turn of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, a particularly noticeable bipolar division emerged in economic theory. This division positioned mainstream economics, with its traditional neoclassical core, in opposition to several heterodox schools. These schools, seemingly aligned with the bright side of the Force, are not entirely coherent. What unites them is, for example, the critique of neoclassical oversimplification in portraying the optimizing behavior of market participants, the exclusion from economic analysis of social and cultural issues, and the use of statistical analysis and other mathematical tools to describe the economy.

Over the past thirty years, several studies comparing the achievements of the Austrian and Feminist Schools have been published. Some of them attempt to reconcile the two schools—for example, they identify Ludwig von Mises as a feminist economist. Furthermore, for example Steven Horwitz states that the two schools’ epistemological and methodological critiques of the Neoclassical School may be a starting point for dialogue.

Is such an alliance really possible? We provided answers to this question, based on Steven Horwitz’s paper, relying on the analysis of the following three issues: (1) the mathematization of economics, (2) the inclusion of female issues in the analysis, and (3) market competition.

Mathematization of Economics

Austrian and feminist economics both criticize neoclassical orthodoxies for creating models based on unrealistic assumptions, but they use completely different arguments in their criticism. Austrians, for example, focus on the inadequacy of specific mathematical tools used, especially differential calculus. They emphasize that neoclassical economics neglects important issues such as uncertainty and adopts simplifying, unrealistic assumptions.

Feminist criticism, in contrast, goes further and strikes at the rationality and objectivity of neoclassical economics—expressed in mathematics as such. For feminists, neoclassical economics is not value-free but suffers from masculine bias, the manifestation of which is rationality and the objectivity of mathematical formalization.

Feminist economists raise two issues. First, they criticize mathematical formalization as an overly narrow methodological approach that excludes many important social phenomena from the analysis. Second, feminist economists claim that mathematical formalization does not provide objectivity at all, as all stages of the scientific procedure and mathematical modeling are strongly influenced by value judgments, social context, gender, and the ideology of the researchers. In this view, mathematical formalization—like all of economic theory and methodology—is built on male gender constructs and prejudices and should therefore be rejected. While Austrians agree with feminists on the narrow scope of mathematical formalization (which overlooks important issues too complex to formalize), they do not agree that orthodox economics and its research methods are androcentric.

Female Issues in Economics Analysis

The integration of “female” elements, such as subjectivism and emotionality, into economic analysis is sometimes viewed as another point of agreement between feminists and Austrians. However, this similarity is again superficial because the Austrians do not see subjective valuation or subjective knowledge as precluding the objectivity of the market process or of economic theory.

Although Austrian economists could support the idea of expanding the stock of economists’ knowledge by including data about the lives and activities of women, the alliance between Austrians and many feminist theorists—particularly standpoint theorists and postmodernists—seems as strained as one between Austrians and Marxists.

Standpoint theory claims that each theory is gender dependent and that economics is a fruit of the male way of thinking about and perceiving the world. Meanwhile postmodernism questions whether individuals have access to objective scientific truth, and it views knowledge as different for each person. The feminist version of postmodernism is distinguished by the belief that the Cartesian attempt to create a universally true and objective science was a male attempt to emancipate men from the female universe. This view also emphasizes that acknowledging scientific discoveries relies on scientific communities, which used to be dominated by men.

Marxists see forces of production and class consciousness as determinants of how we perceive reality. To them, the history of humankind is the history of class struggle. People’s ideas are determined by their class affiliation on the basis of which factors of production they own. Capitalists and workers in particular are inherently opposed to each other, and their class struggle paves the way for communism, in which there will be no exploitation and in which goods will be distributed on the basis of need.

Feminist economics replaces class with gender, but the perception of the world is similar to Marxist economics. Both are polylogistic: to them, different groups of people follow different, mutually contradictory types of logic. To Marxists, economics is a product of economists’ bourgeois logic. To feminist economists, economics is a product of the male logic born of the gender of most orthodox economists. However, no one has presented evidence of different logical structures for different social groups, so polylogism seems to be an unscientific attitude that replaces reasoning with prejudice.

Austrian economists generally reject the postmodern approach. At the time it was founded, the Austrian School strongly advocated the universality of economic laws in opposition to the relativism of the German Historical School. As Mises emphasizes,

The Austrian economists unconditionally rejected the logical relativism implied in the teachings of the Prussian Historical School. As against the declarations of Schmoller and his followers, they maintained that there is a body of economic theorems that are valid for all human action irrespective of time and place, the national and racial characteristic of the actors, and their religious, philosophical, and ethical ideologies.

After all, a core tenet of the Austrian School is that economics is an objective and a priori science with the universal formal fact of human action.

Market Competition

For feminist economics, the Neoclassical School represents an economics of an androcentric nature. Consequently, feminists argue that competition is a male domain and cooperation is a female domain. Thus, feminist economists reject the neoclassical concept of competition and propose paying more attention to cooperation.

On the other hand, Austrian economics, while concurring with the feminist critique of the neoclassical concept of competition, proposes a fundamentally different view. According to Austrians, competition and cooperation are two sides of the same coin.

Mises noted the difference between biological and social (catallactic) competition. The former refers to rivalry among animals. The latter concerns the efforts of individuals to gain the most advantageous place in the system of social cooperation. Under catallactic competition, those who lose are not killed but find new positions better suited to their competences. Therefore, according to Austrians, in a market economy, people compete with each other (sellers must outdo other sellers by offering better or cheaper goods, and buyers must outbid other buyers) and have different skills, but these differences promote social cooperation.

Hence, the feminist claim that competition by its nature precludes cooperation is unjustified. The two concepts are not mutually contradictory because in the market, there is competition in cooperation and cooperation in competition. All employees and entrepreneurs are both competitive and cooperative because competition is an element of social collaboration.


In conclusion, the Austrian and Feminist Schools present seemingly similar critiques of the Neoclassical School. However, methodological differences appear to rule out stronger convergence. Although the Austrian School also criticizes mathematical formalism, it does not regard it as a manifestation of an androgenic approach to science and economics. Similarly, although the Austrian School most fully developed the subjectivist approach in economics, its subjectivism is concerned with the valuation of economic agents, not with the market process or knowledge about it, so the school does not question the objectivity of knowledge or of the laws of economics, as some strands of feminist economics seem to do.

Hence, in its critique of neoclassical economics, it goes much too far, possibly falling into the trap of polylogism. This means that the Feminist School seems to criticize neoclassical economics from a post-Marxist and postmodernist position, while the Austrian School—with its methodological individualism and praxeological approach—is critical of that position and in fact is much closer to economic orthodoxy.

This article is based on our paper, Sielska, Alicja Katarzyna, Arkadiusz Sieroń, and Ryszard Jacek Kubisz. 2024. “Similar or different? A comparison of Austrian and feminist economics.” Ekonomista 2024 (1): 54–72. https://doi.org/10.52335/ekon/174963.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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