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Added and Discouraged Workers in the Late 1930s: A Re-Examination


  • T. Aldrich Finegan
  • Robert A. Margo


We revisit a famous controversy in labor economics: the debate between W.S. Woytinsky and Clarence Long over "added" and "discouraged" worker effects in the late 1930s. According to Woytinsky, the Depression created large numbers of added workers, persons who entered the labor force when the head of the household became unemployed. Long, on the other hand, believed that the number of added workers was trivial compared with the number of discouraged workers, and subsequent research has largely supported Long. Using a sample of married women drawn from the public use sample of the 1940 census, we show that added worker effect was alive and well in the late 1930s, but that its viability was muted by the operation of work relief. Wives whose husbands held "public emergency work relief" jobs with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) or related agencies were far less likely to participate in the labor force than wives whose husbands were employed in a private sector or non-relief government job, or whose husbands were unemployed, so much so that the added worker effect disappears in the aggregate if the impact of work relief is ignored.

Suggested Citation

  • T. Aldrich Finegan & Robert A. Margo, 1993. "Added and Discouraged Workers in the Late 1930s: A Re-Examination," NBER Historical Working Papers 0045, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0045 Note: DAE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Goldin, Claudia, 1989. "Life-Cycle Labor-Force Participation of Married Women: Historical Evidence and Implications," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 7(1), pages 20-47, January.
    2. Devine, Theresa J. & Kiefer, Nicolas M., 1991. "Empirical Labor Economics: The Search Approach," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195059366, June.
    3. Goldin, Claudia, 1992. "Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195072709, June.
    4. Goldin, Claudia D, 1991. "The Role of World War II in the Rise of Women's Employment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(4), pages 741-756, September.
    5. Sundstrom, William A., 1992. "Last Hired, First Fired? Unemployment and Urban Black Workers During the Great Depression," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 52(02), pages 415-429, June.
    6. Fleisher, Belton M & Rhodes, George, 1976. "Unemployment and the Labor Force Participation of Married Men and Women: A Simultaneous Model," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 58(4), pages 398-406, November.
    7. Clarence D. Long, 1958. "The Labor Force Under Changing Income and Employment," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number long58-1, January.
    8. Lundberg, Shelly, 1985. "The Added Worker Effect," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 3(1), pages 11-37, January.
    9. Kesselman, Jonathan R & Savin, N Eugene, 1978. "Three-and-a-Half Million Workers Never Were Lost," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 16(2), pages 205-225, April.
    10. repec:hrv:faseco:30703972 is not listed on IDEAS
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    JEL classification:

    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-


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