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Marriage Bars: Discrimination Against Married Women Workers, 1920's to 1950's


  • Claudia Goldin


Modern personnel practices, social consensus, and the Depression acted in concert to delay the emergence of married women in the American economy through an institution known as the "marriage bar." Marriage bars were policies adopted by firms and local school boards, from about the early 1900's to 1950, to fire single women when they married and not to hire married women. I explore their determinants using firm-level data from 1931 and 1940 and find they are associated with promotion from within, tenure-based salaries, and other modern personnel practices. The marriage bar, which had at its height affected 751 of all local school boards and more than 50% of all office workers, was virtually abandoned in the 1950's when the cost of limiting labor supply greatly increased.

Suggested Citation

  • Claudia Goldin, 1988. "Marriage Bars: Discrimination Against Married Women Workers, 1920's to 1950's," NBER Working Papers 2747, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2747
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lazear, Edward P & Rosen, Sherwin, 1981. "Rank-Order Tournaments as Optimum Labor Contracts," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(5), pages 841-864, October.
    2. Lazear, Edward P, 1981. "Agency, Earnings Profiles, Productivity, and Hours Restrictions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(4), pages 606-620, September.
    3. Goldin, Claudia, 1984. "The historical evolution of female earnings functions and occupations," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 1-27, January.
    4. Bulow, Jeremy I & Summers, Lawrence H, 1986. "A Theory of Dual Labor Markets with Application to Industrial Policy,Discrimination, and Keynesian Unemployment," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 4(3), pages 376-414, July.
    5. repec:hrv:faseco:30703975 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Lazear, Edward P, 1979. "Why Is There Mandatory Retirement?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(6), pages 1261-1284, December.
    7. Smith, James P & Ward, Michael P, 1985. "Time-Series Growth in the Female Labor Force," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 3(1), pages 59-90, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Heather Boushey, 2013. "The role of the government in work–family conflict in the US," Chapters,in: Handbook of Research on Gender and Economic Life, chapter 19, pages 307-322 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    2. repec:eee:touman:v:33:y:2012:i:5:p:1185-1194 is not listed on IDEAS

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