Ester Boserup

Ester Boserup (18 May 1910[1] – 24 September 1999) was a Danish and French economist. She studied economic and agricultural development, worked at the United Nations as well as other international organizations, and wrote seminal books on agrarian change and the role of women in development.

Boserup is known for her theory of agricultural intensification, also known as Boserup's theory, which posits that population change drives the intensity of agricultural production. Her position countered the Malthusian theory that agricultural methods determine population via limits on food supply. Her best-known book on this subject, The Conditions of Agricultural Growth, presents a "dynamic analysis embracing all types of primitive agriculture." (Boserup, E. 1965. p 13)[2] A major point of her book is that "necessity is the mother of invention".

Her other major work, Woman's Role in Economic Development, explored the allocation of tasks between men and women, and inaugurated decades of subsequent work connecting issues of gender to those of economic development, pointing out that many economic burdens fell disproportionately on women.[3] In an early review, her book was called "pioneering;" nearly five decades later, it has proved influential, having been cited by thousands of other works.[4]

It was her great belief that humanity would always find a way and was quoted in saying "The power of ingenuity would always outmatch that of demand". She also influenced the debate on the women in workforce and human development, and the possibility of better opportunities of work and education for women.

Her work earned her three honorary doctorate degrees: one from Wageningen University; one from Brown University; and one from the University of Copenhagen. She was also elected to the US National Academy of Sciences as a Foreign Associate in 1989.[5] The doctorates were in three different fields: agricultural, economic, and human sciences, respectively; the interdisciplinary nature of her work is reflected in these honors, just as it distinguished her career.[6] Of interdisciplinarity, Boserup said: "Somebody should have the courage not to specialise and to look at how one can bring things together. That is what I have tried to do."[5]

Ester Boserup
amount roughly
Ester Børgesen

18 May 1910
Died24 September 1999 (aged 89)


She was the only daughter of a Danish engineer, who died when she was two years old. The family was almost destitute for several years. Then, "encouraged by her mother and aware of her limited prospects without a good degree,"[7] she studied economic and agricultural development at the University of Copenhagen from 1929, and obtained her degree in theoretical economics in 1935.

After graduation Boserup worked for the Danish government from 1935–1947, right through the Nazi occupation in WWII. As head of its planning office, she worked on studies involving the effects of subsidies on trade. She made almost no reference to conflicts between family and work during her lifetime. The family moved to Geneva in 1947 to work with the UN Economic Commission of Europe (ECE). In 1957, she and Mogens worked in India in a research project run by Gunnar Myrdal; she and Mogens worked in India until 1960. For the rest of her life, she worked as a consultant and writer. She and Mogens lived in Senegal for a year between 1964 and 1965, while he was leading the UN's effort to help establish the African Institute for Economic Development and Planning.[7][8] She was based in Copenhagen until her husband died in 1980, after which she settled near Geneva. In her later years, in the 1990s, she lived in Ticino, Switzerland.[5]

Ester had married Mogens Boserup when both were twenty-one; the young couple lived on his allowance from his well-off family during their remaining university years."[7] Their daughter, Birte, was born in 1937; their sons Anders, in 1940, and Ivan, in 1944.


Scholarly contributions

Her first major work, The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change Under Population Pressure, laid out her thesis, informed by her experience in India in opposition to many views of the time.[6]

According to Malthusian theory, the size and growth of the population depends on the food supply and agricultural methods. In Boserup’s theory, agricultural methods depend on the size of the population. In the Malthusian view, when food is not sufficient for everyone, the excess population will die. However, Boserup argued that in those times of pressure, people will find ways to increase the production of food by increasing workforce, machinery, fertilizers, etc.

Graph boserup
This graph shows how the rate of food supply may vary but never reaches its carrying capacity, because every time it gets near, there is an invention or development that causes the food supply to increase.

Although Boserup is widely regarded as being anti-Malthusian, both her insights and those of Malthus can be comfortably combined within the same general theoretical framework.[9]

Boserup argued that when population density is low enough to allow it, land tends to be used intermittently, with heavy reliance on fire to clear fields, and fallowing to restore fertility (often called slash and burn farming). Numerous studies have shown such methods to be favorable in total workload and also efficiency (output versus input). In Boserup’s theory, it is only when rising population density curtails the use of fallowing (and therefore the use of fire) that fields are moved towards annual cultivation. Contending with insufficiently fallowed and less fertile plots, covered with grass or bushes rather than forest, mandates expanded efforts at fertilizing, field preparation, weed control, and irrigation. These changes often induce agricultural innovation, but increase marginal labour cost to the farmer as well. The higher the rural population density, the more hours the farmer must work for the same amount of produce. Therefore, workloads tend to rise while efficiency drops. This process of raising production at the cost of more work at lower efficiency is what Boserup describes as "agricultural intensification".

Boserupian Theory

Although Boserup's original theory was highly simplified and generalized, it proved instrumental in understanding agricultural patterns in developing countries.[10] By 1978, her theory of agricultural change began to be reframed as a more generalized theory.[11] The field continued to mature in to relation to population and environmental studies in developing countries.[12] Neo-Boserupian theory continues to generate controversy with regards to population density and sustainable agriculture.[13]

Originally published in 1965, The Conditions of Agricultural Growth has been republished at least 16 times afterwards, and has been translated into at least four additional languages.[6]

Gender studies

Ester Boserup also contributed to the discourse surrounding gender and development practises with her 1970 work Woman's Role in Economic Development.[14] The work is "the first investigation ever undertaken into what happens to women in the process of economic and social growth throughout the Third World". Boserup's work is widely credited as a motivation behind the United Nations Decade for Women.[6] In addition, according to the foreword in the 1989 edition by Swasti Mitter, "It is [Boserup's] committed and scholarly work that inspired the UN Decade for Women between 1975 and 1985, and that has encouraged aid agencies to question the assumption of gender neutrality in the costs as well as in the benefits of development". Boserup's text evaluated how work was divided between men and women, the types of jobs that constituted productive work, and the type of education women needed to enhance development. This text marked a shift in the Women in Development (WID) debates, because it argued that women's contributions, both domestic and in the paid workforce, contributed to national economies. Many liberal feminists took Boserup's analysis further to argue that the costs of modern economic development were shouldered by women.[3]

Woman's Role in Economic Development, too, has been republished many times, appearing in print in at least a half dozen languages.[6]

Selected bibliography


  • Boserup, Ester (1965). The conditions of agricultural growth: the economics of agrarian change under population pressure. London: Allen & Unwin. OCLC 231372. Pdf version.
Reprinted as: Boserup, Ester (2005). The conditions of agricultural growth: the economics of agrarian change under population pressure. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Aldine Transaction. ISBN 9780202307930.
  • Boserup, Ester (1970). Woman's role in economic development. London: George Allen & Unwin.
Reprinted as: Boserup, Ester (2007). Woman's role in economic development. London Sterling, Virginia: Earthscan. ISBN 9781844073924.
  • Boserup, Ester; Sachs, Ignacy (1971). Foreign aid to newly independent countries problems and orientations = Aide extérieure aux pays récemment indépendants: problèmes et orientations. The Hague: Mouton. ISBN 9783111557120.
  • Boserup, Ester (1981). Population and technological change: a study of long-term trends. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226066745.
  • Boserup, Ester (1981). Population and technology. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 9780631133711.
  • Boserup, Ester (1998). My professional life and publications, 1929-1998. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. ISBN 9788772895208.

Chapters in books

  • Boserup, Ester (1975), "Women in the labour market", in Jain, Devaki, Indian women, New Delhi, India: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, OCLC 1646453.
  • Boserup, Ester (1985), "The impact of scarcity and plenty on development", in Rotberg, Robert I.; Rabb, Theodore K., Hunger and history: the impact of changing food production and consumption patterns on society, Cambridge Cambridgeshire New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 185–210, ISBN 9780521315050.
  • Boserup, Ester (1997), "The economics of polygamy", in Grinker, Roy Richard; Steiner, Christopher B., Perspectives on Africa: a reader in culture, history, and representation, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell, pp. 506–517, ISBN 9781557866868.

Journal articles

  • Boserup, Ester (1975). "The impact of population growth on agricultural output". The Quarterly Journal of Economics. 89 (2): 257–270. doi:10.2307/1884430. JSTOR 1884430.
  • Boserup, Ester (1976). "Environment, population, and technology in primitive societies". Population and Development Review. 2 (1): 21–36. doi:10.2307/1971529. JSTOR 1971529. Pdf version.

Further reading


  1. ^ "Boserup, Ester". Library of Congress. Retrieved 12 August 2014. data sheet. (b. 5-18-10)
  2. ^ Andrew C. Revkin, "An Ecologist Explains His Contested View of Planetary Limits", The New York Times, Sept. 16, 2013.
  3. ^ a b Jain, Devaki (2005). Women, development, and the UN: a sixty-year quest for equality and justice. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 9780253218193.
  4. ^ Dodge, Norton T. (1973) "Women in Economic Development: A Review Essay." International Review of Education, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 161-166
  5. ^ a b c Mathieu, Jon (2014). ""Finding Out is My Life": Conversations with Ester Boserup in the 1990s" (PDF). Chapter 2. 'Finding Out Is My Life': Conversations with Ester Boserup in the 1990s, in Ester Boserup's Legacy on Sustainability. pp. 13–22. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-8678-2_2. ISBN 978-94-017-8677-5. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e B. L. Turner II and Marina Fischer-Kowalski (21 December 2010). "Ester Boserup: An interdisciplinary visionary relevant for sustainability". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 107 (51): 21963–21965. doi:10.1073/pnas.1013972108. PMC 3009765. PMID 21135227. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Tinker, Irene (9–10 March 2001). "Ester Boserup: a tribute (presented at Global Tensions Conference held at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York)". via WordPress.
  8. ^ Boserup, Mogens (December 1964). "The African Institute for Economic Development and Planning, Dakar". The Journal of Modern African Studies. 2 (4): 573–575. doi:10.1017/S0022278X00004651. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  9. ^ Turchin and Nefedov: Secular Cycles
  10. ^ Stone, Glen Davis (August–December 2001). "Theory of the square chicken: advances in agricultural intensification theory". Asia Pacific Viewpoint. 42 (2–3): 163–180. doi:10.1111/1467-8373.00142.
  11. ^ Datoo, B.A. (April 1978). "Toward a reformulation of Boserup's theory of agricultural change". Economic Geography. 54 (2): 135–144. doi:10.2307/142848. JSTOR 142848. The paper first summarizes Boserup's theory of agricultural change and dispels the misconceptions to which it has given rise. It then attempts to recast the theory in a systems framework and thereby to eliminate certain fundamental weaknesses in it....
  12. ^ Marquette, Catherine M. (October 1997). "Turning but not Toppling Malthus: Boserupian Theory on Population and the Environment Relationships" (PDF). CMI Working Papers. Development Studies and Human Rights (WP 1997: 16): 14 p. ISSN 0804-3639. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 30, 2014. Retrieved May 28, 2013. Summary: Subsequently to the Brundtland Report, the 1992 Earth Summit, and the resu1ting Agenda 21, the issue of population and development has increasingly evolved into discussion on the "population, environment and development nexus". In the face of this new mandate for research on population, environment and development dynamics, theoretical frameworks are limited. Conceptual thinking on population and environment within both the social and natural sciences has traditionally suffered from a long-term confinement within opposing "Malthusian" versus "Cornucopian" views. The work of Ester Boserup, however, continues to transcend the boundaries of this polarized discourse. This paper reviews the main points of Boserupian theory and its relevance to developing regions, in particular to sub-Saharan Africa. Recent reinterpretations of Boserup's work relevant to population and environment relationships in developing countries are also considered.
  13. ^ Romero, Marino R.; deGroot, Wouter T. (2008), "Farmers investing in sustainable land use at a tropical forest fringe, the Philippines", in Dellink, Rob B.; Ruijs, Arjan, Economics of poverty, environment and natural-resource use, Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Springer, pp. 157–184, ISBN 9781402083037 Pdf version.
  14. ^ Boserup, Ester (1970). Woman's role in economic development. London: George Allen & Unwin. Reprinted as: Boserup, Ester (2007). Woman's role in economic development. London Sterling, Virginia: Earthscan. ISBN 9781844073924.

1999 (MCMXCIX)

was a common year starting on Friday of the Gregorian calendar, the 1999th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 999th year of the 2nd millennium, the 99th year of the 20th century, and the 10th and last year of the 1990s decade.

1999 was designated as the International Year of Older Persons.


Boserup is a Danish surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Anders Boserup (1940 – 1990),

Ester Boserup (1910 – 1999),

Julia Boserup (born 1991), American tennis player

Cultural ecology

Cultural ecology is the study of human adaptations to social and physical environments. Human adaptation refers to both biological and cultural processes that enable a population to survive and reproduce within a given or changing environment. This may be carried out diachronically (examining entities that existed in different epochs), or synchronically (examining a present system and its components). The central argument is that the natural environment, in small scale or subsistence societies dependent in part upon it, is a major contributor to social organization and other human institutions. In the academic realm, when combined with study of political economy, the study of economies as polities, it becomes political ecology, another academic subfield. It also helps interrogate historical events like the Easter Island Syndrome.

Environmental sociology

Environmental sociology is the study of interactions between societies and their natural environments. The field emphasizes the social factors that influence environmental resource management and cause environmental issues, the processes by which these environmental problems are socially constructed and defined as social issues, and societal responses to these problems.

Environmental sociology emerged as a subfield of sociology in the late 1970s in response to the emergence of the environmental movement in the 1960s.

Esther (given name)

Esther (Hebrew: אֶסְתֵּר‬) is a feminine given name known from the Jewish queen Esther, eponymous heroine of the Book of Esther.

According to the Hebrew Bible, queen Esther was born with the name הֲדַסָּה‎‬ Hadassah ("Myrtle"). Her name was changed to Esther to hide her identity upon becoming queen of Persia. The root of Esther in Hebrew is hester (הסתר‬) "Hidden".The name can be derived from the Old Persian stāra (NPer. ستاره setāra, meaning "star") although some scholars identify Esther with the name of the Babylonian goddess of love Ishtar.

Feminist economics

Feminist economics is the critical study of economics and economies, with a focus on gender-aware and inclusive economic inquiry and policy analysis. Feminist economic researchers include academics, activists, policy theorists, and practitioners. Much feminist economic research focuses on topics that have been neglected in the field, such as care work, intimate partner violence, or on economic theories which could be improved through better incorporation of gendered effects and interactions, such as between paid and unpaid sectors of economies. Other feminist scholars have engaged in new forms of data collection and measurement such as the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM), and more gender-aware theories such as the capabilities approach. Feminist economics is oriented towards the goal of "enhancing the well-being of children, women, and men in local, national, and transnational communities."Feminist economists call attention to the social constructions of traditional economics, questioning the extent to which it is positive and objective, and showing how its models and methods are biased by an exclusive attention to masculine-associated topics and a one-sided favoring of masculine-associated assumptions and methods. While economics traditionally focused on markets and masculine-associated ideas of autonomy, abstraction and logic, feminist economists call for a fuller exploration of economic life, including such "culturally feminine" topics such as family economics, and examining the importance of connections, concreteness, and emotion in explaining economic phenomena.Many scholars including Ester Boserup, Marianne Ferber, Julie A. Nelson, Marilyn Waring, Nancy Folbre, Diane Elson and Ailsa McKay have contributed to feminist economics. Waring's 1988 book If Women Counted is often regarded as the "founding document" of the discipline. By the 1990s feminist economics had become sufficiently recognised as an established subfield within economics to generate book and article publication opportunities for its practitioners.

Irene Tinker

Irene Tinker (born March 8, 1927 in Milwaukee, Wis), is Professor Emerita in the Departments of City and Regional Planning & Women's Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, teaching from 1989–1998. She was the founding Board president of the International Center for Research on Women, founder and director of the Equity Policy Center and co-founder of the Wellesley Center for Research on Women.

Malthusian catastrophe

A Malthusian catastrophe (also known as Malthusian check, Malthusian spectre or Malthusian crunch) is a prediction that population growth will outpace agricultural production – that there will be too many people and not enough food.

Marina Fischer-Kowalski

Marina Fischer-Kowalski (born 1946) is an Austrian sociologist and social ecologist, currently teaching at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, the Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt and the University of Vienna. She is known for founding the Vienna School of Social Ecology and her pioneering work on the widely used metric for material and energy flows to complement economic accounting. Fischer-Kowalski works on socio-environmental change, sustainable development and the Anthropocene.

May 18

May 18 is the 138th day of the year (139th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 227 days remaining until the end of the year.


Monogamy ( mə-NOG-ə-mee) is a form of relationship in which an individual has only one partner during their lifetime — alternately, only one partner at any one time (serial monogamy) — as compared to non-monogamy (e.g., polygamy or polyamory). The term is also applied to the social behavior of some animals, referring to the state of having only one mate at any one time.

Nandini Sundar

Nandini Sundar (born 1967) is a professor of sociology at the Delhi School of Economics whose research interests include political sociology, law, and inequality. She is a recipient of the Infosys Prize for Social Sciences in 2010. She was also awarded the Ester Boserup Prize for Development Research in 2016 and the Malcolm Adiseshiah Award for Distinguished Contributions to Development Studies in 2017.

Necessity is the mother of invention

"Necessity is the mother of invention" is an English-language proverb. It means, roughly, that the primary driving force for most new inventions is a need.

Ordrup Cemetery

Ordrup Cemetery (Danish: Ordrup Kirkegård) is a cemetery in Ordrup in the northern suburbs of Copenhagen, Denmark. It is the principal cemetery for the district of Skovshoved, Ordrup and Charlottenlund in the parishes of Ordrup and Skovshoved.


Polygamy (from Late Greek πολυγαμία, polygamía, "state of marriage to many spouses") is the practice of marrying multiple spouses. When a man is married to more than one wife at a time, sociologists call this polygyny. When a woman is married to more than one husband at a time, it is called polyandry. If a marriage includes multiple husbands and wives, it can be called a group marriage.

In contrast, monogamy is marriage consisting of only two parties. Like "monogamy", the term "polygamy" is often used in a de facto sense, applied regardless of whether the state recognizes the relationship. In sociobiology and zoology, researchers use polygamy in a broad sense to mean any form of multiple mating.

Worldwide, different societies variously encourage, accept or outlaw polygamy. Of societies which allow or tolerate polygamy, in the vast majority of cases the form accepted is polygyny. According to the Ethnographic Atlas (1998), of 1,231 societies noted, 588 had frequent polygyny, 453 had occasional polygyny, 186 were monogamous and 4 had polyandry; although more recent research suggests polyandry may be more common than previously thought. From a religious point of view, "The bible shows over 36 named men who had more than one wife." In cultures which practice polygamy, its prevalence among that population is often connected to class and socioeconomic status.From a legal point of view, in many countries, although marriage is legally monogamous (a person can only have one spouse, and bigamy is illegal), adultery is not illegal, leading to a situation of de facto polygamy being allowed, although without legal recognition for non-official "spouses".

According to scientific studies, the human mating system is considered to be primarily monogamous, with cultural practice of polygamy to be in the minority, based on both surveys of world populations, and on characteristics of human reproductive physiology.

Shifting cultivation

Shifting cultivation is an agricultural system in which plots of land are cultivated temporarily, then abandoned and allowed to revert to their natural vegetation while the cultivator moves on to another plot. The period of cultivation is usually terminated when the soil shows signs of exhaustion or, more commonly, when the field is overrun by weeds. The length of time that a field is cultivated is usually shorter than the period over which the land is allowed to regenerate by lying fallow. This technique is often used in LEDCs (Less Economically Developed Countries) or LICs (Low Income Countries). In some areas, cultivators use a practice of slash-and-burn as one element of their farming cycle. Others employ land clearing without any burning, and some cultivators are purely migratory and do not use any cyclical method on a given plot. Sometimes no slashing at all is needed where regrowth is purely of grasses, an outcome not uncommon when soils are near exhaustion and need to lie fallow.

In shifting agriculture, after two or three years of producing vegetable and grain crops on cleared land, the migrants abandon it for another plot. Land is often cleared by slash-and-burn methods—trees, bushes and forests are cleared by slashing, and the remaining vegetation is burnt. The ashes add potash to the soil. Then the seeds are sown after the rains.

Tagea Brandt Rejselegat

The Tagea Brandt Rejselegat (Travel Scholarship) is a Danish award to women who have made a significant contribution in science, literature or art. The grant, which is given without application, was created and endowed by Danish industrialist Vilhelm Brandt (1854–1921) in 1905 in honor of his wife, Tagea Brandt.

It is awarded annually on 17 March, her birthday.

The charter of 1922 provides that it shall be given to outstanding women in science, art, music, literature and theater arts (particularly in this case to actresses at the Royal Danish Theatre). The intent is for the awardee to both broaden her horizons while promoting Danish society abroad, and to benefit from vacation and rest time.The first scholarships were given in 1924; the first time the amount was DKK 10.000, in 1958 it was increased to DKK 15.000, in 1967 to 25.000, later to 50.000 and currently it is DKK 75.000, which usually is given to 2-3 women annually.

Technological fix

A technological fix, technical fix, technological shortcut or solutionism refers to the attempt of using engineering or technology to solve a problem (often created by earlier technological interventions).Some references define technological fix as an "attempt to repair the harm of a technology by modification of the system", that might involve modification of the machine and/or modification of the procedures for operating and maintaining it.

Technological fixes are inevitable in modern technology. It has been observed that many technologies, although invented and developed to solve certain perceived problems, often create other problems in the process, known as externalities. In other words, there would be modification of the basic hardware, modification of techniques and procedures, or both.Technological fix is the idea that all problems can find solutions in better and new technologies. It now is used as a dismissive phrase to describe cheap, quick fixes by using inappropriate technologies; these fixes often create more problems than they solve, or give people a sense that they have solved the problem.

Women in Africa

Women in Africa are women who were born in, who live in, and are from the continent of Africa. The culture, evolution and history of African women is related to the evolution and history of the African continent itself.

Numerous short studies have appeared for women's history in African nations. Several surveys have appeared that put the sub-Sahara Africa in the context of women's history.There are numerous studies for specific countries and regions, such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, Nigeria. and Lesotho.Scholars have turned their imagination to innovative things for the history of African women, such as songs from Malawi, weaving techniques in Sokoto, and historical linguistics.

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