The Supply of Gender Stereotypes and Discriminatory Beliefs
In: Human Capital in History: The American Record
What determines beliefs about the ability and appropriate role of women? An overwhelming majority of men and women born early in the 20th century thought women should not work; a majority now believes that work is appropriate for both genders. Betty Friedan (1963) postulated that beliefs about gender were formed by consumer good producers, but a simple model suggests that such firms would only have the incentive to supply error, when mass persuasion is cheap, when their products complement women's time in the household, and when individual producers have significant market power. Such conditions seem unlikely to be universal, or even common, but gender stereotypes have a long history. To explain that history, we turn to a second model where parents perpetuate beliefs out of a desire to encourage the production of grandchildren. Undersupply of female education will encourage daughters' fertility, directly by reducing the opportunity cost of their time and indirectly by leading daughters to believe that they are less capable. Children will be particularly susceptible to persuasion if they overestimate their parents' altruism toward themselves. The supply of persuasion will diminish if women work before childbearing, which may explain why gender-related beliefs changed radically among generations born in the 1940s.
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