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High-Value Work and the Rise of Women: The Cotton Revolution and Gender Equality in China

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  • Xue, Melanie Meng

Abstract

This paper studies a unique historical experiment: the cotton revolution and its impact on the emergence of gender-equitable beliefs. The cotton revolution led to a prolonged phase (1300-1840 AD) of high productivity for women. I hypothesize that a substantial, long-standing increase in relative female income eroded a highly resilient cultural belief: women are less capable than men. I examine a period when economic gains from the cotton revolution faded. Using variation across 1,489 counties in cotton spinning and weaving, I find that the cotton revolution reduces sex selection. This result is supported by survey evidence on gender equitable beliefs. I instrument cotton weaving with the range of relative humidity within which cotton yarn can be smoothly woven into cloth. I document an initial impact of the cotton revolution on widow suicides. To isolate the cultural channel, I examine the effects of the cotton revolution under post-1949 state socialism, where both genders had similar economic opportunities, political and legal rights, and show that pre-1840 cotton weaving predicts a higher probability for the wife to head the household. I document the distinctive role of high-value work in the perception of women. Low-value work performed by women, such as cotton cultivation, does not correct prenatal sex selection.

Suggested Citation

  • Xue, Melanie Meng, 2018. "High-Value Work and the Rise of Women: The Cotton Revolution and Gender Equality in China," MPRA Paper 91100, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:91100
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    File URL: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/91100/1/MPRA_paper_90761.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Xue, Melanie Meng & Koyama, Mark, 2018. "Autocratic Rule and Social Capital: Evidence from Imperial China," MPRA Paper 84249, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Baranov, Victoria & de Haas, Ralph & Grosjean, Pauline, 2018. "Men. Roots and Consequences of Masculinity Norms," Discussion Paper 2018-041, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Culture; relative female income; gender-equitable beliefs;

    JEL classification:

    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • N0 - Economic History - - General
    • N35 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Asia including Middle East
    • Z1 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics

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