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The historical evolution of female earnings functions and occupations

  • Goldin, Claudia

Of all the changes in the history of women's market work, few have been more impressive than the rapid emergence and feminization of the clerical sector and the related decline in manufacturing employment for women. Although a century ago few women were clerical workers, as early as 1920 22% of all employed non-farm women were, and about 50% of all clerical workers were women. Employment for women in the clerical sector expanded at five times the annual rate in manufacturing from 1890 to 1930, and during the same period of time wages for female clerical workers fell relative to those in manufacturing. This paper explores the underlying causes of these dramatic sectoral shifts by estimating the relationship between earnings and experience for manufacturing and clerical workers from 1888 to 1940. It is seen that earnings profiles for employment in manufacturing rose steeply with experience and peaked early, while those in the clerical sector were much flatter and did not peak within the relevant range. Returns to off-job training and depreciation with age and with time away from the labor force also differed between these occupations. A model of sectoral shift is developed in which workers choose occupations and therefore the time path of training on the basis of their life-cycle labor force participation and their consumption value of education. The coefficients from the earnings function estimations are used to demonstrate that the decline in the relative wage of clerical to manufacturing work from 1890 to 1930 can be explained by such a model, Finally, it is shown that a sizable percentage of the difference in the growth of female employment in the manufacturing and clerical sectors can be explained by various labor supply factors.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Explorations in Economic History.

Volume (Year): 21 (1984)
Issue (Month): 1 (January)
Pages: 1-27

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Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:21:y:1984:i:1:p:1-27
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/622830

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  1. Salop, Joanne & Salop, Steven, 1976. "Self-Selection and Turnover in the Labor Market," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 90(4), pages 619-27, November.
  2. Jacob Mincer & Solomon Polachek, 1978. "An Exchange: The Theory of Human Capital and the Earnings of Women: Women's Earnings Reexamined," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 13(1), pages 118-134.
  3. Mincer, Jacob & Polachek, Solomon, 1974. "Family Investment in Human Capital: Earnings of Women," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(2), pages S76-S108, Part II, .
  4. Jacob Mincer & Solomon Polacheck, 1974. "Family Investments in Human Capital: Earnings of Women," NBER Chapters, in: Economics of the Family: Marriage, Children, and Human Capital, pages 397-431 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Steven H. Sandell & David Shapiro, 1978. "An Exchange: The Theory of Human Capital and the Earnings of Women: A Reexamination of the Evidence," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 13(1), pages 103-117.
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