The Evolution and Persistence of Women's Roles: Evidence from the Gold Rush
59 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2018 Last revised: 28 Aug 2022
Date Written: January 14, 2021
Does industrial specialization, in particular extractive industries, affect women's societal roles, and do such roles persist over time? We explore the Gold Rush in the Western United States during the second half of the 19th-century as a natural experiment to answer these questions. We exploit the location and discovery of gold deposits to understand short and long-term changes in labor and marriage markets. Gold mining increased (decreased) marriage rates among women (men), and women were less likely to work. Labor market differences between mining and non-mining women were more pronounced for married women, whose labor force participation halved in mining regions. Mediation analysis confirms that gold mining had an independent effect on women's labor market participation, while sex ratio, endogenous to gold mining presence, drove changes in marriage formation. Using census data for 70 years, we detect some persistence in these effects after the initial conditions are gone.
Keywords: Extractive Industries, Sex Ratio, Marriage Markets, Labor Markets, Gender Relations, Persistence of Norms
JEL Classification: O13, J16, J12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation