The Gender of Capital

The Gender of Capital: How Families Perpetuate Wealth Inequality, translated by Juliette Rogers, Harvard University Press, 2023.

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Why do women in different social classes accumulate less wealth than men? Why do marital separations impoverish women while they do not prevent men from staying or becoming wealthy? This book approaches the institution of family from a materialist point of view, breaking with the dominant sociological theory of economically disinterested relations in contemporary families. Through an original blend of ethnography and statistics, this book builds on the works of the economists, in the wake of Thomas Piketty, who observe a return to property inequality, based on the legacy of capitalism in the twenty-first century. It reconsiders the effectivity of legal changes that profess formal equality between men and women, while condoning inequality in practice.
Drawing on research spanning twenty years, the authors analyze what they call family wealth arrangements. They break with the common understanding of the family as an emotional haven of peace in a brutal capitalist world. Spouses and partners, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers do not play the same part in family strategies of social reproduction, nor do they reap the same profits from them. The family is an economic institution that plays a central role in the production, circulation, control and evaluation of wealth. The meaning of this economic institution is revealed, in particular, in moments of marital breakdown and inheritance.
From the single mothers of the French “Yellow Vest” movement to the divorce of Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, from the legacy of family businesses to the estate of the Trump family, the mechanisms of control and distribution of capital vary according to social class, yet they always result in the dispossession of women. Capital is gendered. This book describes how class society is perpetuated through the masculine appropriation of capital.


Plenty of reviews in French

“A fantastic, must-read book. If you want to know why gender inequality in wealth remains enormously high, and even has risen in recent decades, this work should be at the top of your reading list. Bessière and Gollac deftly disentangle the complex processes of estate planning, divorce proceedings, and marital arrangements that have brought us to this point.”—Thomas Piketty, author of A Brief History of Equality

The Gender of Capital is a rare gem. Illuminating entrenched social and legal practices, Bessière and Gollac expertly demonstrate the grip of gender inequality in shaping the transmission of wealth. Their discoveries deserve a broad audience, and undoubtedly will shape the direction of future research.”—Viviana A. Zelizer, author of Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy

“Richly documented and incisively argued, this book offers new insight into how unequal relations between women and men are reproduced over many generations. For those of us who have been doing feminist work for a long time, it offers welcome confirmation that gender is an important determinant of inequality, both within and across divisions of class.”—Joan Wallach Scott, author of Sex and Secularism

“An important new chapter in the history of wealth inequality. In a fascinating account of legal and family practices surrounding bequests and divorce, Bessière and Gollac reveal the mechanisms through which wealth accumulates mostly in the hands of men.”—Jens Beckert, author of Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics

“At last, a book that addresses the notable omission of gender from the conversation about wealth inequality. Taking seriously the contributions of 1970s and 1980s socialist feminists, Bessière and Gollac show how the practice of family and inheritance law drives the gender wealth gap. One can only hope that scholars in the United States will pursue future work following this model.”—Cynthia Grant Bowman, author of Living Apart Together: Legal Protections for a New Form of Family

June 2023, « How Wealth Inequalities are Made: An Interview with Céline Bessière and Sibylle Gollac », by Lisa Adkins, special issue on Wealth, Australian Feminist Studies, DOI: 10.1080/08164649.2023.2222338

April 26, 2023, review of the book by Ian Bright, The Society of Professional Economists

March 29, 2021, “A French Touch in the Sociology of Wealth“, by Nicolas Duvoux, Books and Ideas

March, 26, 2021, “How Families Reproduce the Inequalities of Capitalism“, by Joan Scott, European Journal of Sociology, 61, 3, 2021, pp. 437-439

February, 14, 2021, “Pride and Prejudice“, Newsletter Les Glorieuses Economics, about the gender wealth gap by Barbara Wojazer

December, 1, 2020, in Population, by Mathieu Trachman [in English]

September, 1, 2020, “Mechanismen männlicher Macht“, by Julia Spohr in Soziopolis [in German]

July, 24, 2020, Shanghai Review of Books by Nan Nan [in Chinese]

Some papers in English about this research:

2024 (forthcoming), “Alone, in Pairs or as a Team. Reflections on a Mixed Methods Approach to the Gender of Capital”, in Louis Augustin-Jean (Ed.), An Autopsy of Fieldwork: An Introspective Look into Qualitative Research Experiences, Routledge [with Sibylle Gollac]

2021, “Why do Women Accumulate Less Wealth than Men”, in Marlène Benquet and Théo Bourgeron (dir.), Accumulating Capital, Routledge [with Sibylle Gollac], pp. 224-234.

2019, « Reversed Accounting: Legal Professionals, Families and the Gender Wealth Gap in France », Socio-Economic Review (DOI: 10.1093/ser/mwz036).

review by Dace Sulmane in the bulletin of the Supreme Court of Latvia, dec. 2019, n°19, pp. 118-120

2018, “Is Social Network Analysis Useful for Studying the Family Economy”, Economic Sociology_the european electronic newsletter,vol 19, n°3, p. 4-10 [with Sibylle Gollac].

Public Lectures and Conferences:

Forthcoming in Spring 2024: US book tour

September 14, 2023, Keynote speakers at the Swiss Association for Gender Studies Conference 2023 “Gender(ed) Labor”, University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

June 19, 2023, Socio-Economic Review Café (online) on “Intergenerational Transfers, Wealth, and Gender Inequality”, with Daria Tisch and Tamara Gutfleisch.

June 2, 2023, Keynote speaker, International Conference on Gender Studies : Gender, Economics and Business, Sousse (Tunisia).

September 29, 2022, LSE Inequalities, London School of Economics, London, UK.

July 6-8, 2022, Braga Summer School in Political Philosophy and Public Policies, Portugal.

June 1-3, 2022, Conference “Wealth and the Family”, Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung, Cologne, Germany.

March 1, 2022, Law and Society Institute, Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany.

September, 16, 2021,  Institutt for sosiologi og samfunnsgeografi (ISS) (, Oslo, Norway.

March, 5, 2021, webminar “Economic inequality: from the gender pay gap to the gender wealth gap” with the president of the Korean Women Workers Association (KWWA), BAE Jinkyung, the women’s studies professor, KIM Eunshil and the sociologist LEE Joohee, at the French Embassy in South Korea.

December, 2, 2020, ENSAE-CREST sociology and economics joint seminar, Paris and online.

October, 9, 2020, MaxPo/OSC/PRESAGE hybrid seminar, discussion by Hélène Périvier, Science Po Paris.

October, 1, 2020, Keynote talk “Investigating Gender Wealth Inequality in the Family”, ECSR Network Workshop: Understanding Gender in Wealth Inequaliy, Humbolt Universität zu Berlin and London School of Economics, online.

November, 1, 2017, “Gender Wealth Inequality in French Families”, talk at the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, University of Texas at Austin, USA.

March, 27, 2017, “The Wealth of Families”, workshop of the Center for the Study of Social Organization (CSSO), coord : Viviana Zelizer, Princeton University, New Jersey, USA.

March, 27, 2017, “Doing Wealth Inequality in the Family”, Center for the Study of Social Organization’s Colloquium, Princeton University, New Jersey, USA.

March, 20, 2017, “Doing Wealth Inequality in the Family”, talk at the School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.

April, 21, 2016, “The Patrimonial Government of Families: How Family Justice Contributes to Wealth Inequality in France”, Inequality: The Wealth–Credit–Housing Nexus and Its Political Consequences, Joint Workshop organized by Jens Beckert, Olivier Godechot and Tod Van Gunter, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies and MaxPo, Sciences Po, Paris.