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The Wage Gains of African-American Women in the 1940's


  • Martha J. Bailey

    () (Graduate Student at Vanderbilt University)

  • William J. Collins

    () (Department of Economics, Vanderbilt University)


The weekly wage gap between black and white female workers narrowed by 15 percentage points during the 1940s. We employ a semi-parametric technique to decompose changes in the distribution of wages. We find that changes in worker characteristics (such as education, occupation and industry, and region of residence) can account for a significant portion of wage convergence between black and white women, but that changes in the wage structure, including large black-specific gains within regions, occupations, industries, and educational groups, made the largest contributions. The single most important contributing factor to the observed convergence was a sharp increase in the relative wages of service workers (where black workers were heavily concentrated) even as black women moved out of domestic service jobs.

Suggested Citation

  • Martha J. Bailey & William J. Collins, 2004. "The Wage Gains of African-American Women in the 1940's," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0416, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:van:wpaper:0416

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Blau, Francine D & Beller, Andrea H, 1992. "Black-White Earnings over the 1970s and 1980s: Gender Differences in Trends," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 74(2), pages 276-286, May.
    2. DiNardo, John & Fortin, Nicole M & Lemieux, Thomas, 1996. "Labor Market Institutions and the Distribution of Wages, 1973-1992: A Semiparametric Approach," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(5), pages 1001-1044, September.
    3. William J. Collins, 2003. "The Labor Market Impact of State-Level Anti-Discrimination Laws, 1940–1960," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 56(2), pages 244-272, January.
    4. Goldin, Claudia, 1992. "Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195072709.
    5. Donohue, John J, III & Heckman, James, 1991. "Continuous versus Episodic Change: The Impact of Civil Rights Policy on the Economic Status of Blacks," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 29(4), pages 1603-1643, December.
    6. Maloney, Thomas N., 1994. "Wage Compression and Wage Inequality Between Black and White Males in the United States, 1940–1960," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 54(02), pages 358-381, June.
    7. Oaxaca, Ronald, 1973. "Male-Female Wage Differentials in Urban Labor Markets," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 14(3), pages 693-709, October.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. Smith, James P, 1984. "Race and Human Capital," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(4), pages 685-698, September.
    11. Alan S. Blinder, 1973. "Wage Discrimination: Reduced Form and Structural Estimates," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 8(4), pages 436-455.
    12. James S. Cunningham & Nadja Zalokar, 1992. "The Economic Progress of Black Women, 1940–1980: Occupational Distribution and Relative Wages," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 45(3), pages 540-555, April.
    13. Robert A. Margo, 1990. "Race and Schooling in the South, 1880-1950: An Economic History," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number marg90-1, April.
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    15. repec:hrv:faseco:30703979 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. Collins, William J., 2000. "African-American Economic Mobility in the 1940s: A Portrait from the Palmer Survey," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 60(03), pages 756-781, September.
    17. Robert A. Margo, 1995. "Explaining Black-White Wage Convergence, 1940–1950," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 48(3), pages 470-481, April.
    18. Sundstrom, William A., 1994. "The Color Line: Racial Norms and Discrimination in Urban Labor Markets, 1910–1950," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 54(02), pages 382-396, June.
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    20. William J. Collins, 2001. "Race, Roosevelt, and Wartime Production: Fair Employment in World War II Labor Markets," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 272-286, March.
    21. repec:hrv:faseco:30703972 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Michael Clemens, 2010. "A Labor Mobility Agenda for Development," Working Papers 201, Center for Global Development.
    2. Martha J. Bailey & William J. Collins, 2011. "Did Improvements in Household Technology Cause the Baby Boom? Evidence from Electrification, Appliance Diffusion, and the Amish," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 3(2), pages 189-217, April.
    3. Frydman, Carola & Molloy, Raven, 2012. "Pay Cuts for the Boss: Executive Compensation in the 1940s," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 72(01), pages 225-251, March.
    4. Margo, Robert A., 2016. "Obama, Katrina, and the Persistence of Racial Inequality," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 76(02), pages 301-341, June.

    More about this item


    World War II; domestic servants; migration;

    JEL classification:

    • J7 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy

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