War and the Sexes: Missing Men

Empirical research by IAST economic historian Victor Gay shows that traditional gender roles still exert a large influence on female labor force participation, even in rich countries. His work explores the impact of the First World War on working women in France throughout the twentieth century. Elsewhere, he finds that women arriving in the US who speak a language with sex-based grammar are less likely to be in the labor force.

In France, labor force participation rates of women aged 30 to 49 surged from 40 per cent in the early 1960s to 90 per cent today. In his search for explanations for this ‘quiet’ revolution, Victor has examined the severe shock to the sex ratio caused by the First World War, in which more than 1.3 million Frenchmen died. Compiling a huge database of military records, he finds that more women entered the labor force in areas where more soldiers had been lost. “Many of these women could not find a suitable husband and sohad toworktosupport their families,” Victor explains. “Similarly, war widows had to work because subsidies were very low, at least until the early 1930s.”

In his paper ‘The Legacy of the Missing Men’, Victor argues that these working women altered the preferences and beliefs about female labor of their daughters, sons, and entourage, and these changes translated into the working behavior of women in subsequent generations. “The impact of the First World War is still present today. Awoman whose grandmother or great-grandmother worked because of the war is more likely to work today and to hold more progressive views about gender roles. We also witness a similar impact on attitudes, although lower, for men whose grandmother or great-grand- mother became labor force participants fol- lowing the war.”


Extract from the IAST Connect #14, Spring 2019

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