Decomposing culture: an analysis of gender, language, and labor supply in the household

Victor Gay, Daniel Hicks, Estefania Santacreu-Vasut, and Amir Shoham


Despite broad progress in closing many dimensions of the gender gap around the globe, recent research has shown that traditional gender roles can still exert a large influence on female labor force participation, even in developed economies. This paper empirically analyzes the role of culture in determining the labor market engagement of women within the context of collective models of household decision making. In particular, we use the epidemiological approach to study the relationship between gender in language and labor market participation among married female immigrants to the U.S. We show that the presence of gender in language can act as a marker for culturally acquired gender roles and that these roles are important determinants of household labor allocations. Female immigrants who speak a language with sex-based grammatical rules exhibit lower labor force participation, hours worked, and weeks worked. Our strategy of isolating one component of culture reveals that roughly two thirds of this relationship can be explained by correlated cultural factors, including the role of bargaining power in the household, and the impact of ethnic enclaves and that at most one third is potentially explained by language having a causal impact.


Language; Gender Gap; Bargaining in the household; Labor force participation; Immigrants;

JEL codes

  • F22: International Migration
  • J16: Economics of Gender • Non-labor Discrimination
  • Z13: Economic Sociology • Economic Anthropology • Social and Economic Stratification

Published in

Review of Economics of the Household, vol. 16, n. 4, 2018, pp. 879–909