Collateral Damage? How World War One Changed the Way Women Work

Victor Gay, Toulouse School of Economics and IAST
Lionel Kesztenbaum , Institut National d'Études Démographiques (INED)

The increase in women participation in the labor force in many Western countries throughout the 20th century is linked to various profound, and long-lasting, evolutions in these societies: gender relations, family structure, among others. However, despite a large literature, the causes of this increase are still debated. In this paper we look at the specific context of interwar France to investigate the factors underlying the evolution of women employment. The standard story tends to focus on the replacement of male workers by women during the war, a temporary increase in participation that did not survive the return of soldiers. But recent works emphasize the consequences of skewed post-war sex ratios, on both marriage and labor market. Thus, women might have been forced to enter the labor force as a result of their deteriorating economic and social positions. Drawing on census micro data, we aim at measuring precisely the impact of WWI on the labor supply of women. We do three things: we look at changes in the situation of women on the labor market, in terms of both participation and type of jobs held; linking individuals in censuses before and after the war, we study changes in the composition of the women labor force; and, finally, we relate, at the local level, the participation of women to the mortality of men to investigate whether changes in the labor force participation of women come from increased willingness to work, increased necessity to work, or increased demand from firms.

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 Presented in Session 26. Historical Family Demograhy