Sparta granted women exceptional rights

Kevin Lewis in his column, Uncommon Knowledge

Spartan women could inherit, own, and bequeath property; they were fed and schooled as much as men; they had complete freedom of movement; they married later and could even get away with adultery. So why would the tough Spartan men allow this to happen?

Upon subjugating its neighbors – whose population vastly outnumbered Sparta’s – Sparta needed its males to focus entirely on training for war and its females to focus on managing the subjugated population and estates. To give the women sufficient capability and incentive, especially in the absence of men, the men had to grant the extra rights to women, the authors of a new study argue.* However, as in modern times, more autonomy for women was associated with lower fertility, which ultimately led to Sparta being unable to field a large enough army, losing control of its subjugated neighbors, and rescinding the rights of its women.

* Fleck, R. & Hanssen, A., “ ‘Rulers Ruled by Women’: An Economic Analysis of the Rise and Fall of Women’s Rights in Ancient Sparta,” Economics of Governance (July 2009).

The column also includes a synopsis of research on peer pressure, teamwork, and pain.

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