Working paper

The Missing Men: World War I and Female Labor Force Participation

Jörn Boehnke, and Victor Gay


Using spatial variation in World War I military fatalities in France, we show that the scarcity of men due to the war generated an upward shift in female labor force participation that persisted throughout the interwar period. Available data suggest that increased female labor supply accounts for this result. In particular, deteriorated marriage market conditions for single women and negative income shocks to war widows induced many of these women to enter the labor force after the war. In contrast, demand factors such as substitution toward female labor to compensate for the scarcity of male labor were of second-order importance.


Female labor, World War I, Sex ratio, Marriage market, Labor supply;

JEL codes

  • J12: Marriage • Marital Dissolution • Family Structure • Domestic Abuse
  • J16: Economics of Gender • Non-labor Discrimination
  • J22: Time Allocation and Labor Supply
  • N34: Europe: 1913-

Replaced by

Jörn Boehnke, and Victor Gay, The Missing Men: World War I and Female Labor Force Participation, The Journal of Human Resources, vol. 57, n. 4, 2022, pp. 1209–1241.

See also

Published in

IAST Working Paper, n. 20-102, January 2020