The Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough

Alesina, A., Giuliano, P. & Nunn, N.
This paper studies the historic origins of current differences in norms and beliefs about the role of women in society. We show that, consistent with anthropological hypotheses, societies with a tradition of plough agriculture tend to have the belief that the natural place for women is inside the home and the natural place for men is outside the home. Looking across countries, subnational districts, ethnic groups and individuals, we identify a link between historic plough-use and a number of outcomes today, including female labor force participation, female participation in politics, female ownership of firms, the sex ratio and self-expressed attitudes about the role of women in society. Our identification exploits variation in the historic suitability of the environment of ancestors for growing crops that differentially benefitted from the adoption of the plough. We examine culture as a mechanism by looking at first and second generation immigrants with different cultural backgrounds living within the US.

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