Proposal preview

Women in changing labor markets

This session is proposed against the background of an already existing network of economic and social historians who have gathered over the years to discuss new and innovative research on historical labor markets. One strong theme that has emerged focuses on gender and the role of women in the household economy and in the development of industrial labor markets at the end of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century. Previous meetings have taken place in Utrecht (Netherlands); in Lund, Sweden, and in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Although many agree that the Industrial Revolution is the most important event in history since the agrarian revolution, the focus is mainly on its implications for production and its contribution to economic growth and increasing living standards. Yet it has had many other impacts; in particular on individuals, families and gender relations. This session gather scholars who work in the tradition that combines theory, quantitative skills, contextual awareness, with the investigative skills of a historian, presenting a range of work that may shed new light on old facts and reinterpret how labor markets, work and wages are affected by fundamental economic change. The focus will be set on women’s experiences, systematically contrasted to those of men. The contributions will shed new light on wage differentials and the position of different categories of workers during the industrial era; on gender differentials regarding work and wages in different industries and geographical regions; the development and returns of the career concept and professionalization as well as on the roles of labor market institutions and labor management across industrialized nations.

This session emphasizes the use of novel techniques and data for the study of women in the labor market and changing gender relations, in order to establish true gender gaps and debunk old myths regarding gender in the labor market. New data sources such as detailed household surveys, matched employer-employee data, labor statistical surveys, micro-level censuses and tax records all allow modern issues in labor economics to be addressed in the historical case, advancing our understanding of how women experienced the labor market around the turn of the twentieth century. The period surrounding 1900 was a transitional period in women’s work, with industrial home work starting to decline, a rapidly shifting occupational structure, and in many places a low point in the employment of married women. Examining the labor supply decisions of households, the occupational and industrial choices facing female workers, and the labor market conditions affecting their work and pay at the beginning of the twentieth century is a very important, and yet relatively under-studied, step in explaining the dramatic changes in women’s labor market outcomes later in the century. With historical insights we can better assess gender inequalities today through the lens of the past.

This panel will follow a standard format, with eight papers and one chair/discussants. The papers will be pre-circulated. Each panelist will have between 15-20 minutes for presentation followed by discussion and Q&A after a set of four papers. We have papers on various aspects of how labor markets, work and wages are affected by industrialization with a focus on women’s experiences and implications for changing gender relations. Contributions are made on labor force participation, wage differentials, the position of different categories of workers, the development and returns of the career concept and professionalization, as well as the work-family tradeoff during the industrial era. Papers cover a range of contexts; the US, the UK, and elsewhere across Europe. Each paper will explore one or more issues/inquiries outlined above with an overall objective to develop a multifaceted and comparative perspective on women’s economic roles during industrialization and in the post-industrial era.

Organizer(s)

  • Maria Stanfors Lund University maria.stanfors@ekh.lu.se Sweden
  • Marco van Leeuwen Utrecht University m.h.d.vanleeuwen@uu.nl Netherlands

Session members

  • Annalisa Frigo, Louvain-la-Neuve University
  • Corinne Boter, Utrecht University
  • Richard Zijdeman, IISG, Amsterdam
  • Joyce Burnette, Wabash College
  • Maria Stanfors, Lund University
  • James Feigenbaum, Boston University
  • Daniel Gross, Harvard Business School
  • Carolyn Moehling, Rutgers University
  • Melissa Thomasson, Miama University
  • Andrew Seltzer, Royal Holloway UL
  • Jessica Bean, Denison University
  • Claudia Goldin, Harvard University

Discussant(s)

  • Elyce Rotella U Michigan, AA rotella@umich.edu

Papers

Panel abstract

Although many agree that the Industrial Revolution is the most important event in history since the agrarian revolution, the focus is mainly on its implications for production and its contribution to economic growth and increasing living standards. Yet it has had many other impacts; in particular on individuals, families and gender relations. This session presents research that shed new light on how labor markets, work and wages are affected by fundamental economic change. The focus will be set on women’s experiences and implications for gender relations. Contributions are made on labor force participation, wage differentials, the position of different categories of workers, the development and returns of the career concept and professionalization, as well as the work-family tradeoff during the industrial era. Contributions cover the US, the UK, and elsewhere in Europe. With the historical insights made from this session, we can better assess gender inequalities today.

1st half

Roots of Gender Equality: the Persistent Effect of Beguinages on Attitudes Toward Women

Annalisa Frigo & Eric Roca, Louvain-la-Neuve University

When 12th-century young women in Belgium decided to live together and care for themselves in communities without male intervention, they triggered a change in attitudes toward women. This paper traces the legacy of these “feminist” forerunners, called beguines, during the 19th century, documenting the long-lasting cultural imprint they left on gender-related outcomes, even in places where they disappeared a long time ago. Building a novel data set featuring the precise location of each beguine community in Belgium combined with 19th century census data, we show that wage and literacy differentials between men and women declined in municipalities exposed to the presence of a beguinage in the past. Using changes in the political organisation through which some villages became more attractive to beguines, we establish that the variation in gender literacy and wages is indeed related to the presence of beguinages. Our results are in line with the extensive empirical evidence...

When 12th-century young women in Belgium decided to live together and care for themselves in communities without male intervention, they triggered a change in attitudes toward women. This paper traces the legacy of these “feminist” forerunners, called beguines, during the 19th century, documenting the long-lasting cultural imprint they left on gender-related outcomes, even in places where they disappeared a long time ago. Building a novel data set featuring the precise location of each beguine community in Belgium combined with 19th century census data, we show that wage and literacy differentials between men and women declined in municipalities exposed to the presence of a beguinage in the past. Using changes in the political organisation through which some villages became more attractive to beguines, we establish that the variation in gender literacy and wages is indeed related to the presence of beguinages. Our results are in line with the extensive empirical evidence documenting the persistence of gender norms and culture.

Industrialization, women’s wages, and the gender wage gap: A diachronic comparison between Britain (1750-1850) and the Netherlands (1800-1914)

Corinne Boter, Utrecht University

This paper explores the international effects of industrialization on women’s labour market position. To this end, I trace the Dutch gender wage gap (GWG) in unskilled and lower-skilled labour during the period 1800-1914. A diachronic comparison with the British gender wage gap in the period 1750-1850 shows that in both countries during industrialization, the GWG in agricultural and industrial casual labour widened considerably. Conversely, the GWG in wages that were paid annually – most importantly those of farm servants – remained stable. I conclude that therefore, the effects of industrialization on women’s labour market position were comparable in both countries, even though the timing and pace of industrialization were different. Women were pushed into the lower-paid and less-productive jobs and increasingly became a ‘secondary labour force’. I expect that also in recently industrialized economies, such as China, women were affected in a similar way.

This paper explores the international effects of industrialization on women’s labour market position. To this end, I trace the Dutch gender wage gap (GWG) in unskilled and lower-skilled labour during the period 1800-1914. A diachronic comparison with the British gender wage gap in the period 1750-1850 shows that in both countries during industrialization, the GWG in agricultural and industrial casual labour widened considerably. Conversely, the GWG in wages that were paid annually – most importantly those of farm servants – remained stable. I conclude that therefore, the effects of industrialization on women’s labour market position were comparable in both countries, even though the timing and pace of industrialization were different. Women were pushed into the lower-paid and less-productive jobs and increasingly became a ‘secondary labour force’. I expect that also in recently industrialized economies, such as China, women were affected in a similar way.

Married women’s labour force participation, US, 1860-2010: family reputation effects and the U-shaped curve

Richard Zijdeman, International institute of social history & Auke Rijpma, Utrecht University

Economic history and sociology provide complementary hypotheses on why levels of female labour force participation changed throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In sociology, an important strand of literature has focused on the reputation effects of women’s work within and between households. The within-family- hypothesis states that husbands and wives will avoid attaining occupations that are similar in terms of social and economic outcome in order to avoid rivalry between the partners, while contrastingly, the among-family-hypothesis states that partners will avoid highly divergent social and economic occupational positions. In economic history, the U-shape hypothesis focuses on opportunities and constraints for women’s work. After an initial decrease of female labour force participation during economic growth as a result of increasing wages allowing households to withdraw women from the labour market, levels of female labour force participation are expected to rise due to increasing productivity and wages of women in manufacturing and...

Economic history and sociology provide complementary hypotheses on why levels of female labour force participation changed throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In sociology, an important strand of literature has focused on the reputation effects of women’s work within and between households. The within-family- hypothesis states that husbands and wives will avoid attaining occupations that are similar in terms of social and economic outcome in order to avoid rivalry between the partners, while contrastingly, the among-family-hypothesis states that partners will avoid highly divergent social and economic occupational positions. In economic history, the U-shape hypothesis focuses on opportunities and constraints for women’s work. After an initial decrease of female labour force participation during economic growth as a result of increasing wages allowing households to withdraw women from the labour market, levels of female labour force participation are expected to rise due to increasing productivity and wages of women in manufacturing and services, in part due to higher female education. In this paper we combine the two strands of literature and test their hypotheses on an IPUMS-USA sample of ca. 5 million women in the US for the period 1860-2010. Compared to earlier research, the sample is the extended in terms of time, and actually allows us to test whether the bottom of the U-shape is to be found at the turn of the century. Moreover, the sample provides relevant information on characteristics at the individual, household and regional (state) level, allowing us to test reputation effects and include a large number of controls such as changes in family structure and educational level. By combining this data with state level female and male wage data, we can also test the income mechanisms behind the U-shape hypo- thesis. To test our hypotheses and explain patterns in female labour force participation, we use multilevel logistic regressions. We fail to find conclusive evidence for the within or between-family-competition hypotheses, while the actual U-shape in female labour force participation cannot be found in the United States, there is evidence for the underlying mechanisms. At the same time, household level factors are also important.

Understanding the gender gap among turn-of-the-century Swedish compositors

Maria Stanfors, Lund University & Joyce Burnette, Wabash College

We explore the gender wage gap among Swedish compositors, exploiting matched employer-employee data with national coverage circa 1900. Women’s hourly wage was about 70 percent of men’s. Individual characteristics explain much of this gap. To explain the remainder, we examine differences across firms. Accounting for differences across firms explains the gender gap. Smaller firms and firms outside major cities treated men and women fairly, but large and big city firms did not. This changes the narrative on the emergence of wage discrimination in both a quantitative and qualitative way. Detailed firm-level data are important for understanding the gender gap, which partly was due to sorting across firms.

We explore the gender wage gap among Swedish compositors, exploiting matched employer-employee data with national coverage circa 1900. Women’s hourly wage was about 70 percent of men’s. Individual characteristics explain much of this gap. To explain the remainder, we examine differences across firms. Accounting for differences across firms explains the gender gap. Smaller firms and firms outside major cities treated men and women fairly, but large and big city firms did not. This changes the narrative on the emergence of wage discrimination in both a quantitative and qualitative way. Detailed firm-level data are important for understanding the gender gap, which partly was due to sorting across firms.

2nd half

Technological Change and Female Labor Markets in the Early 20th Century: Evidence from the Telephone Industry

James Feigenbaum, Boston University & Daniel P. Gross, Harvard Business School

Telephone operation was one of the largest entry-level occupations for women in the early 20th century. In 1917, AT&T began a process of automation, replacing its manual switchboards with mechanical switching and dial telephones, and by 1940 over half of all telephones in the U.S. were dial. We study the effects of the conversion to dial on operators and women’s local labor markets, to understand a) what happened to women employed as operators, b) whether and where the next cohort of young women found employment, and c) how did local labor markets adjust, and over what time horizon.

Telephone operation was one of the largest entry-level occupations for women in the early 20th century. In 1917, AT&T began a process of automation, replacing its manual switchboards with mechanical switching and dial telephones, and by 1940 over half of all telephones in the U.S. were dial. We study the effects of the conversion to dial on operators and women’s local labor markets, to understand a) what happened to women employed as operators, b) whether and where the next cohort of young women found employment, and c) how did local labor markets adjust, and over what time horizon.

Shut Down and Shut Out: Women Physicians in the Era of Medical Education Reform

Carolyn M. Moehling, Rutgers University & Melissa A. Thomasson, Miami University

Women made tremendous inroads into the medical profession in the late nineteenth century. By 1900, women constituted more than 10 percent of practicing physicians in some cities. Progress, however, did not continue into the twentieth century. In fact between 1910 and 1940, the fraction female among American physicians actually declined. This reversal is often linked to the professionalization of medical practice and the associated changes in medical education, including the closure of most women’s medical colleges. Using data from the American Medical Directories, we examine the career paths of female and male physicians during this period of change. We consider how women’s experiences relative to those of men, varied by graduation cohort as well as type of medical school attended. We look in particular at the how career paths differed between women physicians trained at women’s only institutions and those trained in coeducational settings.

Women made tremendous inroads into the medical profession in the late nineteenth century. By 1900, women constituted more than 10 percent of practicing physicians in some cities. Progress, however, did not continue into the twentieth century. In fact between 1910 and 1940, the fraction female among American physicians actually declined. This reversal is often linked to the professionalization of medical practice and the associated changes in medical education, including the closure of most women’s medical colleges. Using data from the American Medical Directories, we examine the career paths of female and male physicians during this period of change. We consider how women’s experiences relative to those of men, varied by graduation cohort as well as type of medical school attended. We look in particular at the how career paths differed between women physicians trained at women’s only institutions and those trained in coeducational settings.

The impact of commuting and mass transport on the London labour market: Evidence from the New Survey of London Life and Labour

Andrew Seltzer, Royal Holloway, Jessica Bean, Denison University & Jonathan Wadsworth, Royal Holloway

Although most of the historical literature on commuting has focused on reducing urban crowding, workers’ ability to commute also has direct effects on labour markets. In the absence of commuting infrastructure, workers must work near to where they live, potentially limiting their employment options and reducing their bargaining power. Nineteenth century social histories of working class urban areas such as the East End of London or the Lower East Side of New York are often dominated by the high population density and associated crowding externalities of these areas. Public transportation opened up opportunities for urban workers, allowing them to move away from their place of work and to search more broadly across employers and find positions that were better suited to their preferences and skill sets. This paper examines the effect of London’s public transport network, specifically the London Underground and the over-ground rail network, on the urban labour circa...

Although most of the historical literature on commuting has focused on reducing urban crowding, workers’ ability to commute also has direct effects on labour markets. In the absence of commuting infrastructure, workers must work near to where they live, potentially limiting their employment options and reducing their bargaining power. Nineteenth century social histories of working class urban areas such as the East End of London or the Lower East Side of New York are often dominated by the high population density and associated crowding externalities of these areas. Public transportation opened up opportunities for urban workers, allowing them to move away from their place of work and to search more broadly across employers and find positions that were better suited to their preferences and skill sets. This paper examines the effect of London’s public transport network, specifically the London Underground and the over-ground rail network, on the urban labour circa 1930. We use data from the New Survey of London Life and Labour, which contains an approximately two percent sample of London’s working class population (defined by a maximum income of £250) collected from the 28 Metropolitan Bureaus and 8 Municipal Bureaus between 1929 and 1931. The New Survey contains personal information for every member of the sample households (e.g. age, gender, place of birth) and employment information (earnings, hours of work, occupation, employer). Importantly for our purposes, it also contains two types of information pertaining to commuting: weekly expenditures on transport and the locations of workers’ homes and workplaces. Home addresses were collected directly by enumerators and we have been able to locate virtually all home addresses in the sample. Workplace locations were often provided by a household member other than the worker and are often imprecise or unidentifiable. Nevertheless, we have been able to find at least an approximate location for most workplace addresses. We have GIS coded these addresses and used the great circle distance formula to construct measures of centrality (distance to Charing Cross), commuting distance, and access to public transport (distance to nearest Underground or rail station). Our approach to examining the impact of public transportation is to estimate fairly standard Mincer-type wage regressions, including transport expenses and/or distance variables (distance commuted, distance from the city centre, and distance from public transport) as additional regressors. This approach has a fundamental potential endogeneity problem, as both home location and workplace location are choice variables. This means that a positive relationship between commuting and earnings might result from 1) better matches between workers and firms due to commuting, 2) reduced local monopsony power because of greater worker choice of employers, or 3) wealthier workers choosing to live further away from their workplace (for example living in the suburbs and commuting into central London). To isolate the effects of commuting on earnings, we split the sample based on 1) whether an individual is identified as the head of household in the New Survey and 2) whether the individual is the highest earner within the household. There exists an extensive literature in urban economics which suggests that that the household location decision is based primarily on the workplace of the primary earner, thus it is appropriate to assume that secondary earners home location is fairly exogenous. Our main findings are as follows. First, we find a strong relationship between proximity to an underground station and whether an individual commutes to work. Proximity to rail stations does not have a similar effect, suggesting that working class employees did not frequently use this mode of transport. Second, we find that that both greater commuting distance and transport expenditures were associated with higher earnings; each additional kilometre commuted was, all else equal, associated with an earnings increase of about 0.7 to 1.0 percent. This relationship is stronger for secondary income earners within households, suggesting that relatively high income households were more likely to choose to live close to the primary earner’s workplace. However, we find no evidence that proximity to either an Underground or Rail station had an independent effect on earnings, after controlling for distance commuted. We interpret this finding to imply that commuting infrastructure resulted in higher earnings due to greater employee search and better employee-employer matches, rather than due to reduced employer monopsony power. Finally, in the near future we aim to investigate gender differences in commuting patterns. There are several reasons to believe that public transport may have had larger effects on female workers than on male workers. First, to the extent that employers had any local monopsony power, it is likely to have been stronger over female workers. In 1930, women were effectively excluded from many occupations, and this would have reduced the number of potential local employers for at least some women. Moreover, employers may have been more likely to respond to outside offers from male workers than female workers, a phenomenon which is true even today. Second, public transport may have enhanced search more for women than for men because it enabled women to by-pass impoverished or dangerous areas that they would otherwise have to walk through on route to work. The Booth poverty maps from the 1890s highlight pockets of more extreme poverty and “semi-criminal” activity throughout London. It is likely that women would have been more reluctant than men to walk through these areas, and thus public transport would have had a greater effect on their search area.

Career and Family Aspirations of US College Graduate Women, 1900 to 2000

Claudia Goldin, Harvard University

In recent decades, many highly-educated women have successfully navigated career roadblocks that had hindered equally gifted women in the past. College graduate women, moreover, have a fertility rate today equal to the one they achieved at the end of the Baby Boom. I look at generations of college women in the US from the late nineteenth century to the present to understand how career and family aspirations and achievements evolved. The roles of increased earnings, widened opportunities, and changing preferences and social norms are explored.

In recent decades, many highly-educated women have successfully navigated career roadblocks that had hindered equally gifted women in the past. College graduate women, moreover, have a fertility rate today equal to the one they achieved at the end of the Baby Boom. I look at generations of college women in the US from the late nineteenth century to the present to understand how career and family aspirations and achievements evolved. The roles of increased earnings, widened opportunities, and changing preferences and social norms are explored.