NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Maximum Hours Legislation and Female Employment in the 1920s: A Reasse ssment

Claudia Goldin

NBER Working Paper No. 1949
Issued in June 1986
NBER Program(s):   LS   DAE

The causes and consequences of state maximum hours laws for female workers, passed from the mid-1800s to the 1920s, are explored and are found to differ from a recent reinterpretation. Although maximum hours legislation reduced scheduled hours in 1920, the impact was minimal and it operated equally for men. Legislation affecting only women was symptomatic of a general desire by labor for lower hours, and these lower hours were achieved in the tight, and otherwise special, World War I labor market -- hours of work declined substantially for most workers in the second decade of this century. Most importantly, the restrictiveness of the legislation had no effect on the employment share of women in manufacturing. The legislation was, on the contrary, associated with a positive impact on the employment share of women in sales (another covered sector). Finally, labor force participation rates of women across cities during the 1920s were strongly and negatively correlated with shorter hours of work per day, consistent with one time-series explanation for the increase in female market work. These results are consistent with a labor market model in which scheduled hours of work per day are negatively related to days worked per week, and that assumption is justified using previously untapped data on actual hours, scheduled hours, and days worked for women in the covered sectors.

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Published: Goldin, Claudia "Maximum Hours Legislation and Female Emplyment in the 1920s: A Reassessment," Journal of Political Economy, February, 1988, Vol. 96, pp. 189-205.

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