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Who Did Protective Legislation Protect? Evidence from 1880

  • Jeremy Atack
  • Fred Bateman
Chapter
Part of the Studies in Public Choice book series (SIPC, volume 35)

Abstract

Beginning in the 1840s many states passed laws mandating the compulsory education of children and regulating the work of women and children although these were far from universal by 1880. In this paper, we focus on the impact of hours laws, especially those for women. Scholars have raised serious questions about the effectiveness of these laws because of doubts about enforcement mechanisms and whether or not the laws were binding. Moreover, it has been questioned as to whether these laws were simply passed as part of rent-seeking behavior by those not covered by the laws, in particular, adult men. In response, many of the laws covering adult women have now been rolled back. One state, Massachusetts, however, did pass an effective law in 1874 that resulted in the (successful) prosecution of at least one politically powerful corporation. Here, we investigate the impact of these laws using establishment level data for 1880. The historical record is consistent with rent-seeking by men but not for the purpose of disadvantaging women. The historical record is consistent with rent-seeking by men but not for the purpose of disadvantaging women. Rather, men pressed the case for women and children to secure benefits that they were apparently unable to achieve on their own. This was possible because, at the time, women and children were complements to male labor rather than substitutes. We find that there were systematic variations in hours from industry to industry, between city and countryside and regionally and that violations of the laws was not uncommon. Larger firms such as those in urban areas or those employing large numbers of the affected group were, however, more likely to be in compliance, particularly in Massachusetts. The evidence for Massachusetts also suggests, albeit very weakly, that the magnitude and certainty of penalties for violating the law may have been a major factor determining compliance with the law.

Notes

Acknowledgements

This paper was originally penned in 1987 and 1988 while the authors were Professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Visiting Professor at Harvard University and Professor at Indiana University respectively. Jeremy Atack moved to Vanderbilt University from Illinois in 1993. Fred Bateman moved to the University of Georgia in 1990. He died in 2012. In preparing the original draft, we benefited from perceptive comments by participants in seminars at the Harvard University, University of California at Los Angeles, University of Chicago, University of Illinois and Yale University Economic History Workshops and participants at 1988 Cliometric Conference. Among individuals making substantive comments and improvements were Lee Alston, Lou Cain, Alan Dye, Barry Eichengreen, David Galenson, Mary Eschelbach-Gregson (now Hansen), Larry Neal, Joseph Reid, Elyce Rotella, Andrew Seltzer, Kenneth Snowden, Richard Sutch, Peter Temin, Mark Toma, Thomas S. Ulen, David Weiman, Jeffrey Williamson and Robert Zevin. They are not responsible for any remaining errors or confusions and we apologize to anyone whose contribution we have missed. The principal change to the original version of this paper is to reflect the U.S. Supreme Court decision in UAW vs JOHNSON CONTROLS (499 U.S. 187 (1991)) that was handed down after the paper was originally written.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Vanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  2. 2.University of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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