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The enfranchisement of women and the welfare state

  • Bertocchi, Graziella

We offer a rationale for the decision to extend the franchise to women within a politico-economic model where men are richer than women, women display a higher preference for public goods, and women's disenfranchisement carries a societal cost. Men and women are matched within households which are the center of the decision process. We derive the optimal tax rate under two alternative regimes: a males-only enfranchisement regime and a universal enfranchisement regime. The latter is associated with a higher tax rate but, as industrialization raises the reward to intellectual labor relative to physical labor, women's relative wage increases, thus decreasing the difference between the tax rates. When the cost of disenfranchisement becomes higher than the cost of the higher tax rate which applies under universal enfranchisement, the male median voter is better off extending the franchise to women. A consequent expansion of the size of government is only to be expected in societies with a relatively high cost of disenfranchisement. We empirically test the implications of the model over the 1870-1930 period. We proxy the gender wage gap with the level of per capita income and the cost of disenfranchisement with the presence of catholicism, which is associated with a more traditional view of women's role and thus a lower cost. The gender gap in the preferences for public goods is proxied by the availability of divorce, which implies marital instability and a more vulnerable economic position for women. Consistently with the model's predictions, women's suffrage is correlated positively with per capita income and negatively with the presence of catholicism and the availability of divorce, while women's suffrage increases the size of government only in non-catholic countries.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal European Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 55 (2011)
Issue (Month): 4 (May)
Pages: 535-553

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Handle: RePEc:eee:eecrev:v:55:y:2011:i:4:p:535-553
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