Mothers, Wives and Workers: The Changing Roles of American Women, 1870 – 1930

Tomas Cvrcek, Vanderbilt University

The sweeping changes of women's roles over the 20th century have their origin in 1870-1930. This period was a time when the patterns of women's labor supply, marriage and childbearing changed profoundly. While fertility kept falling throughout the period, the nuptiality first declined, then, around 1900, picked up again. At the same time, American women were a growing presence on the labor market: first as singles, then, after 1900, increasingly as married women, too. Single women’s labor supply is viewed as the prime force for change: it strengthened women’s bargaining position first on the marriage market (encouraging a postponement of marriage and childbearing), then inside marriage (increasing married women’s labor supply and deepening the decline in fertility through time reallocation). A theoretical model is developed to explain both labor market and marriage market/fertility changes in women's lives and the theoretical findings are further investigated through calibration of the model.

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Presented in Poster Session 1