Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 639–681 | Cite as

Economic development, structural change, and women’s labor force participation:

A reexamination of the feminization U hypothesis
  • Isis Gaddis
  • Stephan Klasen
Original Paper


A sizable literature claims that female labor force participation (FLFP) follows a U-shaped trend as countries develop due to structural change, education, and fertility dynamics. We show that empirical support for this secular trend is feeble and depends on the data sources used, especially GDP estimates. The U also vanishes under dynamic panel estimations. Moreover, cross-country differences in levels of FLFP related to historical contingencies are more important than the muted U patterns found in some specifications. Given the large error margins in international GDP estimates and the sensitivity of the U relationship, we propose a more direct approach to explore the effect of structural change on FLFP using sector-specific growth rates. The results suggest that structural change affects FLFP consistent with a U pattern, but the effects are small. We conclude that the feminization U hypothesis as an overarching secular trend driving FLFP in the development process has little empirical support.


Female labor force participation Economic development Structural change Panel GMM 

JEL Classifications

J16 J21 O15 



We thank R. Emre Aytimur, Friederike Greb, Tim Krieger, Inmaculada Martínez-Zarzoso, Chris Muris, Janneke Pieters, Sebastian Vollmer, two anonymous referees, the editors of this journal, and seminar participants in Göttingen and Cologne for valuable comments and advice. We are grateful to Dani Rodrik and Margaret McMillan for sharing with us the extension of the GGDC 10-Sector database. We also thank Valentina Stoevska of the ILO for sending us an earlier edition of the EAPEP data. Of course, all errors are our own.

Supplementary material

148_2013_488_MOESM1_ESM.docx (127 kb)
(DOCX 126 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The World BankDar-es-SalaamTanzania
  2. 2.Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)BonnGermany
  3. 3.Ifo Institute for Economic ResearchMunichGermany
  4. 4.Department of Economics and Courant Research Centre, Poverty, Equity, and Growth in Developing and Transition CountriesUniversity of GöttingenGöttingenGermany

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