Panel Paper: Norms Formation: The Gold Rush and Women's Roles

Thursday, July 19, 2018
Building 3, Room 210 (ITAM)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sandra Aguilar Gomez, Columbia University and Anja Tolonen, Barnard College

The population in San Francisco in 1860 counted 12 men for every woman. The reason for the imbalance was gold mining, which attracted male migrants. Mining and other extractive industries are, still today, one of the largest drivers of economic growth in developing countries. This has raised concerns regarding gender equality as mining remains a male-dominated sector. This paper contributes to the small but burgeoning literature on the effects of extractive industries on women and gender inequality, a question that has received very little attention.

In this paper, we explore the expansion of gold mining in California to understand how marriage markets and gender norms are affected by the relative scarcity of women, in the short and long term. We use a geographic difference-in-difference methodology, exploiting the location of the gold deposits. We also explore to what extent these new economic and cultural gender norms persist until today.

In the first stage of our analysis in the 1880’s, we find significant differences across mining and non-mining counties in the four states. Interestingly, once controlling for the sex ratio (number of men per woman), the strength of the mining sector seems to have a negative impact on the status of women. Holding mining activity constant, in places with higher sex ratio, women have fewer children, and are able to marry younger men. The mining activity increases the age gap between spouses, and increases the number of children women have while decreasing their probability of being married.

Full Paper: