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The Origins and Persistence of Black-White Differences in Women's Labor Force Participation


  • Leah Platt Boustan
  • William J. Collins


Black women were more likely than white women to participate in the labor force from 1870 until at least 1980 and to hold jobs in agriculture or manufacturing. Differences in observables cannot account for most of this racial gap in labor force participation for the 100 years after Emancipation. The unexplained racial gap may be due to racial differences in stigma associated with women's work, which Goldin (1977) suggested could be traced to cultural norms rooted in slavery. In both nineteenth and twentieth century data, we find evidence of inter-generation transmission of labor force participation from mother to daughter, which is consistent with the role of cultural norms.

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  • Leah Platt Boustan & William J. Collins, 2013. "The Origins and Persistence of Black-White Differences in Women's Labor Force Participation," NBER Working Papers 19040, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19040
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bruce Sacerdote, 2005. "Slavery and the Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 87(2), pages 217-234, May.
    2. 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.
    3. Francine Blau & Lawrence Kahn & Albert Liu & Kerry Papps, 2013. "The transmission of women’s fertility, human capital, and work orientation across immigrant generations," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 26(2), pages 405-435, April.
    4. Lídia Farré & Francis Vella, 2013. "The Intergenerational Transmission of Gender Role Attitudes and its Implications for Female Labour Force Participation," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 80(318), pages 219-247, April.
    5. Goldin, Claudia, 1992. "Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195072709.
    6. Gronau, Reuben, 1977. "Leisure, Home Production, and Work-The Theory of the Allocation of Time Revisited," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(6), pages 1099-1123, December.
    7. Killingsworth, Mark R. & Heckman, James J., 1987. "Female labor supply: A survey," Handbook of Labor Economics,in: O. Ashenfelter & R. Layard (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 2, pages 103-204 Elsevier.
    8. Ben Jann, 2008. "The Blinder–Oaxaca decomposition for linear regression models," Stata Journal, StataCorp LP, vol. 8(4), pages 453-479, December.
    9. Nicole M. Fortin, 2008. "The Gender Wage Gap among Young Adults in the United States: The Importance of Money versus People," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 43(4).
    10. Fraundorf, Martha Norby, 1979. "The Labor Force Participation of Turn-of-the-Century Married Women," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 39(02), pages 401-418, June.
    11. Reimers, Cordelia W, 1985. "Cultural Differences in Labor Force Participation among Married Women," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(2), pages 251-255, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Graziella Bertocchi, 2016. "The legacies of slavery in and out of Africa," IZA Journal of Migration, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 5(1), pages 1-19, December.
    2. Zachary Parolin, 2018. "Race, Social Assistance & the Risk of Child Poverty across the 50 United States," Working Papers 1804, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
    3. Graziella Bertocchi, 2016. "The Legacies of Slavery in and out of Africa," Department of Economics 0096, University of Modena and Reggio E., Faculty of Economics "Marco Biagi".
    4. repec:eee:exehis:v:65:y:2017:i:c:p:94-105 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Tomaz Cajner & Tyler Radler & David Ratner & Ivan Vidangos, 2017. "Racial Gaps in Labor Market Outcomes in the Last Four Decades and over the Business Cycle," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2017-071, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).

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    JEL classification:

    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • N11 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • N12 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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