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Women at Work in the Pre-Civil War United States: An Analysis of Unreported Family Workers

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  • Chiswick, Barry R.
  • Robinson, RaeAnn Halenda

Abstract

Rates of labor force participation in the US in the second half of the nineteenth century among free women were exceedingly (and implausibly) low, about 11 percent. This is due, in part, to social perceptions of working women, cultural and societal expectations of female’s role, and lack of accurate or thorough enumeration by Census officials. This paper develops an augmented free female labor force participation rate for 1860. It is calculated by identifying free women (age 16 and older) who were likely providing informal and unenumerated labor for market production in support of a family business, that is, unreported family workers. These individuals are identified as not having a reported occupation, but are likely to be working on the basis of the self-employment occupation of other relatives in their households. Family workers are classified into three categories: farm, merchant, and craft. The inclusion of this category of workers more than triples the free female labor force participation rate in the 1860 Census, from 16 percent to 56 percent, which is comparable to today’s rate (57 percent in 2018).

Suggested Citation

  • Chiswick, Barry R. & Robinson, RaeAnn Halenda, 2020. "Women at Work in the Pre-Civil War United States: An Analysis of Unreported Family Workers," GLO Discussion Paper Series 587, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:glodps:587
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Goldin, Claudia, 1992. "Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195072709, April.
    2. Thomas J. Weiss, 1986. "Revised Estimates of the United States Workforce, 1800-1860," NBER Chapters, in: Long-Term Factors in American Economic Growth, pages 641-676, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Folbre, Nancy & Wagman, Barnet, 1993. "Counting Housework: New Estimates of Real Product in the United States, 1800–1860," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 53(2), pages 275-288, June.
    4. Dorothy S. Brady, 1966. "Output, Employment, and Productivity in the United States after 1800," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number brad66-1, June.
    5. Robert E. Gallman & John Joseph Wallis, 1992. "American Economic Growth and Standards of Living before the Civil War," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number gall92-1, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Joanne Haddad, 2022. "Settlers and Norms," Working Papers ECARES 2022-02, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Women; Labor Force Participation; Occupational Attainment; Unpaid Workers; Unreported Family Workers; 1860 Census;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J21 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure
    • J82 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Standards - - - Labor Force Composition

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