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Gender Roles and Technological Progress

  • Stefania Albanesi

    ()

    (Columbia University, NBER, and CEPR)

  • Claudia Olivetti

    ()

    (Boston University)

Until the early decades of the 20th century, women spent more than 60% of their prime- age years either pregnant or nursing. Since then, improved medical knowledge and obstetric practices reduced the time cost associated with women?s reproductive role. The introduction of infant formula also reduced women?s comparative advantage in infant care, by providing an e¤ective breast milk substitute. Our hypothesis is that these developments enabled married women to increase their participation in the labor force, thus providing the incentive to invest in market skills, potentially narrowing gender earnings di¤erentials. We document these changes and develop a quantitative model that aims to capture their impact. Our results suggest that progress in medical technologies related to motherhood was essential to generate the signi?cant rise in the participation of married women between 1920 and 1960, in particular those with children. By enabling women to reconcile work and motherhood, these medical advancements laid the ground for the revolutionary change in women?s economic role.

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Paper provided by Boston University - Department of Economics in its series Boston University - Department of Economics - Working Papers Series with number WP2007-029.

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Length: 49pages
Date of creation: Apr 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:bos:wpaper:wp2007-029
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Web page: http://www.bu.edu/econ/

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