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The Gender Wage Gap in Early Modern Toledo, 1550–1650

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 March 2020

Mauricio Drelichman
Associate Professor, The University of British Columbia and CIFAR, Vancouver School of Economics, 6000 Iona Drive, VancouverBCV6T 2G2, Canada. E-mail:
David González Agudo
Beatriu de Pinós Fellow, Universitat de Barcelona, Departament d’Història Econòmica, Institucions, Política i Economia Mundial, Av. Diagonal, 690, 08034Barcelona, Spain. E-mail:


We exploit the records of a large Toledan hospital to study the compensation of female labor and the gender wage gap in early modern Castile in the context of nursing—a non-gendered, low-skill occupation in which men and women performed the same clearly defined tasks. We employ a robust methodology to estimate the value of in-kind compensation, and show it to constitute a central part of the labor contract, far exceeding subsistence requirements. Patient admissions records are used to measure nurse productivity, which did not differ across genders. Female compensation varied between 70 percent and 100 percent of male levels, with fluctuations clearly linked to relative labor scarcity. Contrary to common assumptions in the literature, we show that markets played an important role in setting female compensation in early modern Castile. The sources of the gender disparity are, therefore, likely to be found in the broader social and cultural context.

© The Economic History Association 2020

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For helpful discussions, we thank Libertad González, David Green, Jane Humphries, Ernesto López Losa, Hugo Ñopo, Marit Rehavi, Carmen Sarasúa, and seminar participants at Universitat de Barcelona, CEMFI, Instituto Ravignani, Universidad de San Andrés, and Universitat de València. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Patxi Guerrero Carot and Rosalía Marqués at the Ducal Archive of Medinaceli, as well as the support of Fundación Casa Ducal de Medinaceli. Drelichman acknowledges financial support from SSHRC through Insight Grant 435-2015-0285 and the hospitality of CEMFI through the María de Maeztu visitor program during the fall of 2018. All errors are ours.


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