The Invisible Heart

Economics and Family Values

A brilliant approach to the economics of caregiving and feminized work, from the MacArthur Award–winning economist

“Important and illuminating . . . an outstandingly provocative book about the economics of care and reciprocity.” —Emma Rothschild, The New York Times Book Review

Lost in perpetually controversial conversations about “family values” is an examination of the economic forces that are exploding family life and limiting the caregiving that families can provide. As leading feminist economist Nancy Folbre notes, every society must confront the problem of balancing self-interested pursuits with care for others—including children, the elderly, and the infirm. Historically, most societies enjoyed an increased supply of care by maintaining strict limits on women’s freedom. But as these limits have happily and inevitably given way, there are many consequences for those who still need care.

Using the image of “the invisible heart” to evoke the forces of compassion that must temper the forces of self-interest, Folbre argues in her classic book that if we don’t establish a new set of rules defining our mutual responsibilities for caregiving, the penalties suffered by the needy—our very families—will increase. Intensified economic competition may drive altruism and families out of business. The COVID-19 pandemic, too, has torn apart the tenuous, fragile web that makes care work possible in our society.

Nancy Folbre writes in a lively, personal style and develops a distinctive approach to the economics of care. Unlike others who praise family values, Folbre acknowledges the complicated relationship between women and altruism. The Invisible Heart offers powerful feminist approaches to such policy issues as welfare reform, school finance, and progressive taxation, and it confronts the challenges of globalization, outlining strategies for developing an economic system that rewards both individual achievement and care for others.


“[Folbre’s] humor and insight elevate her book above mere political diatribe.”
Publishers Weekly
“Written with clarity and simplicity of style . . . a pleasure to read.”
The American Prospect

News and Reviews

New Press author Nancy Folbre to be recognized by the National Employment Law Project

On April 30, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) will honor economist and writer Nancy Folbre, U.S.

Books by Nancy Folbre

Field Guide to the U.S. Economy
A Compact and Irreverent Guide to Economic Life in America

Jonathan Teller-Elsberg, Nancy Folbre, James Heintz

The War on the Poor
A Defense Manual

Nancy Folbre, Randy Albelda

Saving State U
Why We Must Fix Public Higher Education

Nancy Folbre

Goodreads Reviews