Norms Formation: The Gold Rush and Women's Roles

59 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2018

See all articles by Sandra Aguilar-Gomez

Sandra Aguilar-Gomez

Columbia University

Anja Benshaul-Tolonen

Barnard College - Department of Economics

Date Written: November 14, 2018


Does the mining-driven scarcity of women affect gender norms? Do gender norms persist over time? We explore the Gold Rush in Western United States in the late19th-century as a natural experiment to answer these questions. We use a geographic difference-in-difference methodology, exploiting the location and discovery of the gold deposits and its influence on sex ratios, to understand short term and persistent changes in women’s labor market participation and marriage market opportunities. Gold mining, through the oversupply of marriageable men with income, increased (decreased) marriage rates among women (men). Women married older men with higher prestige occupations. In parallel, the Gold Rush created a market based service sector economy, potentially catering to men with money but poor marriage prospects. Using all subsequent censuses up until 1940, we show that the effects persist over time.

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 Tolonen, Anja, Norms Formation: The Gold Rush and Women's Roles (November 14, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Sandra Aguilar-Gomez

Columbia University ( email )

420 West 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States


Anja Tolonen (Contact Author)

Barnard College - Department of Economics ( email )

3009 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

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