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Female Labor Force Participation: The Origin of Black and White Differences, 1870 and 1880

  • Claudia Goldin (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 May 2010

Although white women have only recently entered the work force, their black counterparts have participated throughout American history. Differences between their rates of participation have been recorded only for the post-1890 period and analyzed only for the post-1940 period due to a lack of available data. To remedy this deficiency my work explores female labor supply at the dawn of emanicipation, 1870 and 1880, in seven southern cities, using data drawn from the manuscripts of the population census. Probit regression techniques demonstrate that economic and demographic variables explain only part of the difference between black and white women and, as in the findings of contemporary research, race is shown to be an important factor. Several explanations are discussed, in particular one relying on socialization differences which are termed a “legacy of slavery.”

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William G. Bowen and T. Aldrich Finegan , The Economics of Labor Force Participation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969)

Duran Bell , “Why Participation Rates of Black and White Wives Differ,” Journal of Human Resources, 9 (Fall1974), 465–79

Herbert Gutman , “Persistent Myths About the American Negro Family,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 6 (Autumn1975), 181210

Frank Furstenberg , “The Origins of the Female-Headed Black Family: The Destructive Impact of the Urban Experience,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 6 (Autumn1975), 211–34

John Blassingame , “Before the Ghetto: The Making of the Black Community in Savannah, Georgia, 1865–1880,” Journal of Social History, 6 (Summer1973)

Carter G. Woodson , “The Negro Washerwoman: A Vanishing Figure,” Journal of Negro History, 15 (July 1930), 274.

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The Journal of Economic History
  • ISSN: 0022-0507
  • EISSN: 1471-6372
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-economic-history
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