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Hazel Kyrk, Eugenics, and Consumption Standards

Edith Kuiper (Economics Department, State University of New York - New Paltz, New Paltz, NY, USA)


Hazel Kyrk, one of the first women economists at the Economic Department of the University of Chicago and author of A Theory of Consumption (1923), conducted groundbreaking research for the Bureau of Home Economics of the US Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Kyrk made a considerable contribution to the development of standards for a “decent living,” the Consumer Price Index, and the conceptualization of what would later turn into the definition of the poverty line. This chapter evaluates Kyrk’s use of eugenic notions of gender and race that were widely used in Kyrk’s day. This chapter shows that eugenic reasoning impacts Kyrk’s theoretical work only superficially but does structure her research on consumption standards through her focus on the white middle-class family as the unit of analysis for consumer behavior. This chapter also makes clear that the American Institutionalist approach to consumer behavior, rather than marginalized and side-tracked due to a lack of theoretical progress, was relegated to the margins of economics science together with the research of women economists into Home Economics departments and policy research at government institutions.



Kuiper, E. (2024), "Hazel Kyrk, Eugenics, and Consumption Standards", Fiorito, L., Scheall, S. and Suprinyak, C.E. (Ed.) Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology: Including a Symposium on Hazel Kyrk's: A Theory of Consumption 100 Years after Publication (Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, Vol. 41D), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 47-67.



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