Mothers and Sons: Preference Transmission and Female Labor Force Dynamics

Type Report
Title Mothers and Sons: Preference Transmission and Female Labor Force Dynamics
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2003
This paper suggests that a signi…cant factor explaining the increase in female labor force
participation over time was the growing presence of a new type of man. This man was
brought up with a di¤erent family model–one in which his mother worked. A working
mother either in‡uenced her son’s preferences for a working wife or directly made him a
better partner for a working woman. The increase in the proportion of these men over time
encouraged women to invest more in market skills and to participate in market work. We
develop a simple dynamic model that illustrates this idea. We present extensive crosssectional
evidence showing that men with working mothers are signi…cantly more likely
to have wives who work, even after controlling for many features of both spouses. In
support of the dynamic implications of our theory, we present intergenerational evidence
that uses di¤erences in mobilization rates of men across states during WWII as a source of
exogenous variation in female labor supply. We show, in particular, that higher WWII male
mobilization rates led to a higher fraction of women working not only for the generation
directly a¤ected by the war, but also for the next generation. These women were young
enough to pro…t from the changed composition in the pool of men (i.e., from the fact that
WWII created more men with mothers who worked). We also show that states in which
the ratio of the average fertility of working relative to non-working women is greatest, have
higher female labor supply twenty years later.

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