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On the Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough

  • Alberto F. Alesina
  • Paola Giuliano
  • Nathan Nunn

This paper seeks to better understand the historical origins of current differences in norms and beliefs about the appropriate role of women in society. We test the hypothesis that traditional agricultural practices influenced the historical gender division of labor and the evolution and persistence of gender norms. We find that, consistent with existing hypotheses, the descendants of societies that traditionally practiced plough agriculture, today have lower rates of female participation in the workplace, in politics, and in entrepreneurial activities, as well as a greater prevalence of attitudes favoring gender inequality. We identify the causal impact of traditional plough use by exploiting variation in the historical geo-climatic suitability of the environment for growing crops that differentially benefited from the adoption of the plough. Our IV estimates, based on this variation, support the findings from OLS. To isolate the importance of cultural transmission as a mechanism, we examine female labor force participation of second-generation immigrants living within the US.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17098.

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Date of creation: May 2011
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Publication status: published as Alberto Alesina & Paola Giuliano & Nathan Nunn, 2013. "On the Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 128(2), pages 469-530.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17098
Note: CH DAE EFG LS POL
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  1. Stefania Albanesi & Claudia Olivetti, 2006. "Gender roles and technological progress," 2006 Meeting Papers 411, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  2. Carranza, Eliana, 2012. "Soil endowments, female labor force participation and the demographic deficit of women in India," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5974, The World Bank.
  3. Foster, Andrew D & Rosenzweig, Mark R, 1996. "Comparative Advantage, Information and the Allocation of Workers to Tasks: Evidence from an Agricultural Labour Market," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 63(3), pages 347-74, July.
  4. Alesina, Alberto & Algan, Yann & Cahuc, Pierre & Giuliano, Paola, 2010. "Family Values and the Regulation of Labor," IZA Discussion Papers 4747, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  5. David Clingingsmith & Asim Ijaz Khwaja & Michael Kremer, 2009. "Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam's Global Gathering," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 124(3), pages 1133-1170, August.
  6. Nathan Nunn & Diego Puga, 2007. "Ruggedness: The blessing of bad geography in Africa," Working Papers 2007-09, Instituto Madrileño de Estudios Avanzados (IMDEA) Ciencias Sociales, revised 01 May 2010.
  7. Rainald Borck, 2011. "Adieu Rabenmutter - The Effect of Culture on Fertility, Female Labour Supply, the Gender Wage Gap and Childcare," CESifo Working Paper Series 3337, CESifo Group Munich.
  8. Stelios Michalopoulos, 2012. "The Origins of Ethnolinguistic Diversity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(4), pages 1508-39, June.
  9. Jeffrey R. Kling & Jeffrey B. Liebman & Lawrence F. Katz & Lisa Sanbonmatsu, 2004. "Moving To Opportunity And Tranquility: Neighborhood Effects On Adult Economic Self-Sufficiency And Health From A Randomized Housing Voucher Experiment," Working Papers 247, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Health and Wellbeing..
  10. Nicole M Fortin, 2005. "Gender Role Attitudes and the Labour-market Outcomes of Women across OECD Countries," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 21(3), pages 416-438, Autumn.
  11. Pitt, Mark M. & Rosenzweig, Mark R. & Hassan, Nazmul, 2010. "Human Capital Investment and the Gender Division of Labor in a Brawn-Based Economy," Working Papers 83, Yale University, Department of Economics.
  12. Lawrence Katz & Jeffrey R. Kling & B. Jeffrey Liebman & Lisa Sanbonmatsu, 2004. "Moving to Opportunity and Tranquility: Neighborhood Effects on Adult Economic Self-Sufficiency and Health From a Randomized Housing Voucher Experiment," Working Papers 860, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
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