NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Origin and Persistence of Black-White Differences in Women's Labor Force Participation

Leah Platt Boustan, William J. Collins

Chapter in NBER book Human Capital in History: The American Record (2014), Leah P. Boustan, Carola Frydman, and Robert A. Margo, editors (p. 205 - 240)
Conference held December 7-8, 2012
Published in October 2014 by University of Chicago Press
© 2014 by the National Bureau of Economic Research

Black women were more likely than white women to participate in the labor force from 1870 until at least 1980 and to hold jobs in agriculture or manufacturing. Differences in observables cannot account for most of this racial gap in labor force participation for the 100 years after Emancipation. The unexplained racial gap may be due to racial differences in stigma associated with women's work, which Goldin (1977) suggested could be traced to cultural norms rooted in slavery. In both nineteenth and twentieth century data, we find evidence of inter-generation transmission of labor force participation from mother to daughter, which is consistent with the role of cultural norms.

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This paper was revised on November 1, 2013

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This chapter first appeared as NBER working paper w19040, The Origins and Persistence of Black-White Differences in Women's Labor Force Participation, Leah Platt Boustan, William J. Collins
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