Legal Professionals, Families and the Gender Wealth Gap in France
Bessière, Céline (2019-06), Legal Professionals, Families and the Gender Wealth Gap in France, 31st Annuel Meeting of the Society for Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE), 2019-06, New York, United States
TypeCommunication / Conférence
Conference title31st Annuel Meeting of the Society for Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE)
Conference cityNew York
Conference countryUnited States
MetadataShow full item record
Institut de Recherche Interdisciplinaire en Sciences Sociales [IRISSO]
Abstract (EN)Historically, legal discrimination has prevented women from accumulating wealth. This is true in both Western legal traditions: common law and Roman law. Family law is a big part of this story since discrimination was mostly against married women and daughters’ access to assets in matters of inheritance.In Civil law territories such as France, inheritance is supposed to be equally shared among daughters and sons since the Napoleonic Civil code in 1804. Marriage is based on a community of property, allowing married women to keep ownership of their personal assets and to accumulate wealth during the marriage, through this community, half of which belongs to each spouse. However, until the middle of the 20thcentury, a husband retained almost absolute power over the assets. A married woman needed her husband’s authorization to accept inheritance and to give away, buy, or sell assets. Only in 1965 did married women gain the right to work, to open a bank account and to contract with others, without their husband's authorization. Since 1985, spouses are formally treated in an equal way. All mentions of "husband" and "wife" have disappeared from the Civil code concerning assets. France, as all Western countries, has a gender neutral law concerning asset ownership.Despite this formally equal law, the gender gap is still strong in many Western countries (Deere and Doss, 2006; Chang, 2010; Sierminska, 2017; Schneebaum et al., 2018). In France, the gender wealth gap has even widened in the last twenty years (Frémeaux and Leturcq, 2018b).This paper argues that legal professionals and the families contribute to the widening, the legitimation and the concealment of the gender wealth gap. It is based on ethnographic observation, the study of legal files and the confrontation with statistical data on gender wealth inequality in France. Despite a formally equal law, family wealth arrangements in moments of estate planning and marital breakdown reproduce gender inequality.The main legal professionals involved are lawyers and notaries. Their practices, in concert with families, can be described as reversed accounting, a mode of reasoning in which the result comes first and the computation after. Because families and legal professionals strive to preserve certain assets, they produce inventories, estimations and distributions of assets which disadvantage women, even though the shares appear formally equal. Female legal professionals as well as female clients endorse this concern, and thus contribute to the gender wealth gap.
Subjects / Keywordswork; gender gap; legal professions
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