The Journal of Economic History

Papers Presented at the Thirty-Sixth Annual Meeting of the Economic History Association

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

Claudia Goldina1

a1 Princeton University


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.”