UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


Virtual Event: The Plough and the Feminisation U Curve

04 June 2020, 3:00 pm–4:00 pm

woman at computer

A seminar with Dr Elodie Douarin and Dr Luca Uberti

This event is free.

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The Feminisation U-curve - which describes the tendency of female labour force participation to first decline and then rise again as a country grows economically - is a stylised fact in development economics. Recent critics, however, claim that empirical support for this secular trend is feeble. To solve this controversy, we draw on the literature on the long-run historical determinants of gender roles, according to which the historical use of the plough in traditional societies displaced women from agriculture, shaping the subsequent evolution of gender norms. By allowing the shape of the Feminisation U to depend on country-level plough legacies, we find that the U-curve is very muted (and mostly statistically insignificant) in countries without a history of traditional plough agriculture, but becomes more pronounced the more a country is subject to plough legacies. Based on anthropological evidence, we suggest that rather than prompting a shift of women away from production, the plough promoted a segmentation of traditional labour markets. Over time, this segmentation led to the emergence of "income-elastic" gender norms that contribute to a reduction in female labour supply in the early stages of development, but facilitate an increase later on.