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In the late eighteenth century an important theoretical device became highly influential in Europe. This tool has become known as the 'four stages theory'. It is the contention of this paper that by utilising this theory Adam Smith was able to advance significantly the development of the economic analysis of the status of women. The paper argues that Smith's contribution to the 'women's question' was fundamental. It constituted the economic discipline's first ever substantive explanation for the social position of women through the ages. It also greatly influenced subsequent economic debate on the status of women and it challenged the claim that the biological differences between the sexes necessarily condemned women to a secondary social position relative to men.