Journal of Economic Growth

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 365–404 | Cite as

Modern gender roles and agricultural history: the Neolithic inheritance

  • Casper Worm HansenEmail author
  • Peter Sandholt Jensen
  • Christian Volmar Skovsgaard


This research proposes the hypothesis that societies with long histories of agriculture have less equality in gender roles as a consequence of more patriarchal values and beliefs regarding the proper role of women in society. We test this hypothesis in a world sample of countries, in a sample of European regions, as well as among immigrants and children of immigrants living in the US. This evidence reveals a significant negative relationship between years of agriculture and female labor force participation rates, as well as other measures of equality in contemporary gender roles. This finding is robust to the inclusion of an extensive set of possible confounders, including historical plough-use and the length of the growing season. We argue that two mechanisms can explain the result: (1) societies with longer agricultural histories had a higher level of technological advancement which in the Malthusian Epoch translated into higher fertility and a diminished role for women outside the home; (2) the transition to cereal agriculture led to a division of labor in which women spend more time on processing cereals rather than working in the field.


Economic development Culture Gender roles 

JEL Classification

J70 N50 O11 O17 



We would like to thank the Editor-in-Chief Oded Galor, five anonymous referees, Patricia Draper, Paola Giuliano, Jens Iversen, Lars Lønstrup, Paul Sharp, Battista Servergnini, Rupert Stasch, MEHR seminar participants (University of Copenhagen), and seminar participants at the Danish Public Choice workshop 2013 (Aarhus University) for useful comments and helpful suggestions. We would also like to thank Alberto Alesina, Paola Giuliano, and Nathan Nunn for kindly sharing their data.

Supplementary material

10887_2015_9119_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (191 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 192 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Casper Worm Hansen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Peter Sandholt Jensen
    • 2
  • Christian Volmar Skovsgaard
    • 2
  1. 1.University of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.University of Southern DenmarkOdenseDenmark

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