The Plough and Gender Roles

Posted on


Via Erik Voeten, a new paper from Alberto Alesina, Paola Giuliano, and Nathan Nunn indicates a link between gender roles and modes of agricultural production:

This paper studies the historic origins of current differences in norms and beliefs about the role of women in society. We show that, consistent with anthropological hypotheses, societies with a tradition of plough agriculture tend to have the belief that the natural place for women is inside the home and the natural place for men is outside the home. Looking across countries, subnational districts, ethnic groups and individuals, we identify a link between historic plough-use and a number of outcomes today, including female labor force participation, female participation in politics, female ownership of firms, the sex ratio and self-expressed attitudes about the role of women in society. Our identification exploits variation in the historic suitability of the environment of ancestors for growing crops that differentially benefitted from the adoption of the plough. We examine culture as a mechanism by looking at first and second generation immigrants with different cultural backgrounds living within the US.

Call me a cynic, but my guess is that this finding won’t get the level of media attention we see every time an evolutionary psychologist publishes a study proving that men are from mars and women are from venus because we evolved to hunt antelope.