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Shocking Labor Supply: A Reassessment of the Role of World War II on U.S. Women's Labor Supply


  • Claudia Goldin
  • Claudia Olivetti


The most prominent feature of the female labor force across the past hundred years is its enormous growth. But many believe that the increase was discontinuous. Our purpose is to identify the short- and long-run impacts of WWII on the labor supply of women who were currently married in 1950 and 1960. We use mobilization rates for various groups of men (by age, race, fatherhood) to see whether there was a wartime impact. We find that an aggregate mobilization rate produces the largest and most robust impacts on both weeks worked and the labor force participation of married white (non-farm) women. The impact, moreover, was experienced primarily by women in the top half of the education distribution. Women who were married but without children during WWII were the group most impacted by the mobilization rate in 1950, although by 1960 WWII still influenced the labor supply decisions of them as well as those with children during WWII. We end the paper with a resolution between the watershed and revisionist views of the role of WWII on female labor supply.

Suggested Citation

  • Claudia Goldin & Claudia Olivetti, 2013. "Shocking Labor Supply: A Reassessment of the Role of World War II on U.S. Women's Labor Supply," NBER Working Papers 18676, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18676
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Daron Acemoglu & David H. Autor & David Lyle, 2004. "Women, War, and Wages: The Effect of Female Labor Supply on the Wage Structure at Midcentury," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(3), pages 497-551, June.
    2. 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.
    3. Casey B. Mulligan, 1998. "Pecuniary Incentives to Work in the United States during World War II," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(5), pages 1033-1077, October.
    4. Raquel Fernández & Alessandra Fogli & Claudia Olivetti, 2004. "Mothers and Sons: Preference Formation and Female Labor Force Dynamics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 119(4), pages 1249-1299.
    5. repec:hrv:faseco:30703972 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Doepke, M. & Tertilt, M., 2016. "Families in Macroeconomics," Handbook of Macroeconomics, Elsevier.
    2. Saul D. Hoffman, 2015. "Teen Childbearing and Economics: A Short History of a 25-Year Research Love Affair," Societies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 5(3), pages 1-18, September.
    3. Matthias Doepke & Moshe Hazan & Yishay D. Maoz, 2015. "The Baby Boom and World War II: A Macroeconomic Analysis," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 82(3), pages 1031-1073.
    4. Bellou, Andriana & Cardia, Emanuela, 2014. "Baby-Boom, Baby-Bust and the Great Depression," IZA Discussion Papers 8727, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    5. Bertocchi, Graziella & Bozzano, Monica, 2016. "Women, medieval commerce, and the education gender gap," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(3), pages 496-521.
    6. Bellou, Andriana & Cardia, Emanuela, 2016. "Occupations after WWII: The legacy of Rosie the Riveter," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 124-142.
    7. Akbulut-Yuksel, Mevlude & Khamis, Melanie & Yuksel, Mutlu, 2013. "For Better or for Worse: The Long-Term Effects of Postwar Reconstruction on Family Formation," IZA Discussion Papers 7239, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    8. Gay, Victor & Hicks, Daniel L. & Santacreu-Vasut, Estefania, 2016. "Language and Gender Roles among Immigrants to the US: A Historical Perspective," MPRA Paper 77565, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    9. Mercedes Mateo Díaz & Lourdes Rodriguez-Chamussy, 2016. "Cashing in on Education," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 25082, March.
    10. Abe, Yukiko, 2016. "On the convergence in female participation rates," Discussion paper series. A 301, Graduate School of Economics and Business Administration, Hokkaido University.
    11. SANTAEULÀLIA-LLOPIS, Raül; IORIO, Daniela; GROES, Fane; LEUNG, Man Yee Mallory, 2017. "Educational disparities in the battle against infertility : evidence from IVF success," Economics Working Papers ECO2017/05, European University Institute.
    12. Johnson, William R., 2014. "House prices and female labor force participation," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 82(C), pages 1-11.
    13. Bridgman, Benjamin, 2016. "Home productivity," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 71(C), pages 60-76.
    14. Wang, Tong & Hennessy, David & Park, Seong, 2014. "Veterinary Supply, Gender and Practice Location Choices in the United States, 1990-2010," 2014 Annual Meeting, July 27-29, 2014, Minneapolis, Minnesota 170211, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    15. repec:mod:depeco:0007 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. repec:tpr:restat:v:99:y:2017:i:2:p:229-242 is not listed on IDEAS
    17. Elizabeth Brainerd, 2017. "The Lasting Effect of Sex Ratio Imbalance on Marriage and Family: Evidence from World War II in Russia," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 99(2), pages 229-242, May.
    18. repec:idb:idbbks:8255 is not listed on IDEAS
    19. Joanna Tyrowicz & Lucas van der Velde, 2017. "When the opportunity knocks: large structural shocks and gender wage gaps," GRAPE Working Papers 2, GRAPE Group for Research in Applied Economics.
    20. Ran Abramitzky, 2015. "Economics and the Modern Economic Historian," NBER Working Papers 21636, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J2 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy

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