Essays on women’s economic advancement in the twentieth century United States
Bailey, Martha Jane
The unprecedented integration of women into U.S. labor markets was one of the most significant economic and social changes of the Twentieth Century. Indeed, the transformation of legal and economic opportunities for women led The Economist to label the past one hundred years as the "female century" (9 September 1999). My dissertation stresses the larger story of women's recent economic advancement by emphasizing the significance of legal changes, federal policy and technological innovation in forestalling and spurring their progress in three different episodes during the Twentieth Century. Chapter II (with William J. Collins) focuses on the wage gains among African-American women during the 1940s. Using a semi-parametric decomposition, we find that demand shifts during the 1940s were critical to explaining African American women's move from domestic service into more lucrative employment in sectors covered by regulations and unions. Chapter III considers women's rapid economic advancement following the FDA's approval of the first oral contraceptive in 1960. Although a large body of theory and empirical evidence relates the end of the Baby Boom to changes in women's work, this work uses an historical experiment to quantify the importance of "the pill" in affecting broad labor market changes. My findings suggest that from 1970 to 1990, fertility-related shifts in women’s labor supply explain roughly 15 percent of the changes in market employment among younger women. Chapter IV examines the impact of changes in women’s labor supply on the aggregate wage structure from 1960 to 2000. Using legal variation in access to oral contraception as an instrumental variable, I find that increases women's labor supply during the 1980s raised wages among the most skilled men and depressed wage growth among women at the mean. This suggests that sharp declines in the gender gap during this decade would have been even more dramatic in the absence of large shifts in the supply of women’s labor.