Cereals and Gender Roles: A Historical Perspective

94 Pages Posted: 26 May 2018

See all articles by Muse Gadisa Demie

Muse Gadisa Demie

University of New South Wales (UNSW), UNSW Business School, School of Economics

Date Written: May 9, 2018


This paper examines the historical origins of contemporary differences in norms and beliefs about the role of women in society within Africa. I test the hypothesis that traditional cultivation of different crop types influenced the historical gender division of labor and the evolution and persistence of gender norms. Anthropological accounts suggest that societies that have relied historically on the cultivation of cereals (as opposed to root or tuber crops) for their diet have developed a specialization of production where women were tended to work within the home, and this, in turn, gave rise to less equality in gender roles. Using ethnicity to link individuals today to their ancestors' agricultural practices and exploiting variation in the cultivation of different crops across ethnic groups, I find that, consistent with existing hypotheses, women from ethnicities that derived their subsistence from the cultivation of cereals in the pre-colonial era are today less likely to be in the labor force, have higher levels of fertility, and are less likely to participate in household decisions. In addition, women belonging to these groups are more likely to have attitudes favoring gender inequality and domestic violence. To address causality, I use land suitability for cereals relative to suitability for roots or tubers as an instrument for the actual cultivation of cereal grains in the pre-colonial period. Examining the causal mechanisms, I show that cultural norms and beliefs, which are transmitted over generations and through the marriage market represent important channels explaining long-run persistence.

Keywords: Culture, norms, gender roles, historical persistence, crop types, ethnicity

JEL Classification: Z1, J16, N30, O55

Suggested Citation

Demie, Muse Gadisa, Cereals and Gender Roles: A Historical Perspective (May 9, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3176346 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3176346

Muse Gadisa Demie (Contact Author)

University of New South Wales (UNSW), UNSW Business School, School of Economics ( email )

High Street
Sydney, New South Wales

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