The Evolution and Persistence of Women's Roles: Evidence from the Gold Rush

62 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2018 Last revised: 19 Aug 2023

See all articles by Sandra Aguilar-Gomez

Sandra Aguilar-Gomez

Universidad de los Andes, Colombia - Department of Economics

Anja Benshaul-Tolonen

Barnard College - Department of Economics

Date Written: January 14, 2021

Abstract

Industrial development has ramifications for women’s participation in labor markets and society, in the short and long run. We explore the Gold Rush that took place in the Western United States in the second half of the 19th century. The Gold Rush led to high male-skewed inward migration and created gender-specific job market opportunities, with men entering mining employment and women entering the service sector. In gold mining counties, both men and women worked less in farming. After revealing the baseline patterns, we disentangle the direct effect of gold mining from the mediating effect of the skewed sex ratio, using formal mediation analysis. The skewed sex ratio is driving lower marriage rates for men, and higher female participation in the service sector. The results are consistent with surviving written accounts from the time, suggesting a high premium for traditionally female services. Using census data spanning almost a century, we show that these differences persisted long after the initial conditions of the Gold Rush had passed.

Keywords: Extractive Industries, Sex Ratio, Marriage Markets, Labor Markets, Gender Relations, Persistence of Norms

JEL Classification: O13, J16, J12

Suggested Citation

Aguilar-Gomez, Sandra and Benshaul-Tolonen, Anja, The Evolution and Persistence of Women's Roles: Evidence from the Gold Rush (January 14, 2021). Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3284515 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3284515

Sandra Aguilar-Gomez

Universidad de los Andes, Colombia - Department of Economics ( email )

Carrera 1a No. 18A-10
Santafe de Bogota, AA4976
Colombia

Anja Benshaul-Tolonen (Contact Author)

Barnard College - Department of Economics ( email )

3009 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

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