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Women Prefer Larger Governments: Female Labor Supply and Public Spending

  • Jose Tavares
  • Tiago Cavalcanti

The increase in income per capita is accompanied, in virtually all countries, by two changes in the structure of the economy: an increase in the share of government spending in GDP and an increase in female labor force participation. This paper suggests that the changes in female labor force participation and government size are not just coincident in time, they are causally related. We develop a growth model with endogenous fertility, labor force participation and government size to illustrate this causal link. When gov- ernment consumption and/or subsidies decrease the cost of performing household chores - including, but not limited to child rearing and child care - an increase in the female market wage leads to an increase in labor force participation by women and a demand for higher government spending. As women make the decision to work outside the home, they increase their demand for services typically provided by the government, such as education and health care, which, in turn, decrease the cost of home and family activi- ties that are overwhelmingly performed by women. We show, for a wide cross-section of developed and developing countries, that higher female participation rates in the labor market are positively associated with larger governments. We investigate the causal link by instrumenting for female labor force participation with the prevalence of contraceptive methods and the relative price of household appliances. Female labor force participation is found to cause an increase in government size, with a 10 percent rise in the former leading to a 6.5 to 9 percent rise in the latter. This effect is stronger for government consumption than for government subsidies and is robust to the country sample, time period, and a set of controls in the spirit of Rodrik (1998)

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Paper provided by Econometric Society in its series Econometric Society 2004 North American Summer Meetings with number 4.

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Date of creation: 11 Aug 2004
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Handle: RePEc:ecm:nasm04:4
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  1. Meltzer, Allan H & Richard, Scott F, 1981. "A Rational Theory of the Size of Government," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(5), pages 914-27, October.
  2. Claudia Goldin, 1990. "Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number gold90-1, June.
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  14. Rodrik, Dani, 1996. "Why do More Open Economies Have Bigger Governments?," CEPR Discussion Papers 1388, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  15. Jaisri Gangadharan & Joshua Rosenbloom & Joyce Jacobson & James Wishart Pearre III, 1996. "The Effects of Child-Bearing on Married Women's Labor Supply and Earnings: Using Twin Births as a Natural Experiment," NBER Working Papers 5647, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  20. Jeremy Greenwood & Ananth Seshadri & Guillaume Vandenbroucke, 2002. "The baby boom and baby bust: some macroeconomics for population economics," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Nov.
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