Gender, the Status of Women, and Family Structure in Malaysia

  • Charles Hirschman University of Washington


This paper addresses the question of whether the relatively high status of women in pre-colonial South-east Asia is still evident among Malay women in twentieth century Peninsular Malaysia. Compared to patterns in East and South Asia, Malay family structure does not follow the typical patriarchal patterns of patrilineal descent, patrilocal residence of newly married couples, and preference for male children. Empirical research, including ethnographic studies of gender roles in rural villages and demographic surveys, shows that women were often economically active in agricultural production and trade, and that men occasionally participated in domestic roles. These findings do not mean a complete absence of patriarchy, but there is evidence of continuity of some aspects of the historical pattern of relative gender equality. The future of gender equality in Malaysia may depend as much on understanding its past as well as drawing lessons from abroad.

Author Biography

Charles Hirschman, University of Washington

Department of Sociology and Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, University of

How to Cite
HIRSCHMAN, Charles. Gender, the Status of Women, and Family Structure in Malaysia. Malaysian Journal of Economic Studies, [S.l.], v. 53, n. 1, p. 33-50, june 2017. ISSN 1511-4554. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 20 sep. 2017.