CfP: "Women in changing labor markets" session at the World Economic History Congress, Boston

Call for papers, deadline 10 December 2017


Boston, July 29 - August 3, 2018

This session is proposed against the background of an already existing network of economic and social historians who have gathered over the years to discuss new and innovative research on historical labor markets. One strong theme that has emerged focuses on gender and the role of women in the household economy and in the development of industrial labor markets at the end of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century. Previous meetings have taken place in Utrecht (Netherlands); in Lund, Sweden, and in Stellenbosch, South Africa. A pre-conference is planned to take place in Spring 2018 in order to establish a coherent session and fully discuss all papers.

Although many agree that the Industrial Revolution is the most important event in history since the agrarian revolution, the focus is mainly on its implications for production and its contribution to economic growth and increasing living standards. Yet it has had many other impacts; in particular on individuals, families and gender relations. The main objective of this session is to gather well-renowned scholars in the field to present ongoing research in the tradition that combines theory, the quantitative skills of an economist, the contextual awareness of sociologist, with the investigative skills of a historian, presenting a range of work that may shed new light on old facts and reinterpret how labor markets, work and wages are affected by fundamental economic change. The focus will be set on women’s experiences, systematically contrasted to those of men. The contributions will shed new light on wage differentials and the position of different categories of workers during the industrial era; on gender differentials regarding work and wages in different industries and geographical regions; the development and returns of the career concept and professionalization, notably during the emergence of internal labor markets and, later, during the transition to a service-based economy; as well as on the roles of labor market institutions and labor management across industrialized nations. We expect contributions from the cases of Britain, elsewhere in Europe, the US, and Australia.

This session emphasizes the use of novel techniques and data for the study of women in the labor market and changing gender relations, in order to establish true gender gaps and debunk old myths regarding gender in the labor market. New data sources such as detailed household surveys, matched employer-employee data, labor statistical surveys, micro-level censuses and tax records all allow modern issues in labor economics to be addressed in the historical case, advancing our understanding of how women experienced the labor market around the turn of the twentieth century. The period surrounding 1900 was a transitional period in women’s work, with industrial home work starting to decline, a rapidly shifting occupational structure, and in many places a low point in the employment of married women. Examining the labor supply decisions of households, the occupational and industrial choices facing female workers, and the labor market conditions affecting their work and pay at the beginning of the twentieth century is a very important, and yet relatively under-studied, step in explaining the dramatic changes in women’s labor market outcomes later in the century. With historical insights we can better assess gender inequalities today through the lens of the past.


Session members

  • Joyce Burnette, Wabash College,
  • Faustine Perrin, Lund University,
  • Ineke Maas, Utrecht University,
  • tba

Proposed discussant(s)

  • tba

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