Human Capital, Female Employment, and Electricity: Evidence from the Early 20th-Century United States

Daniela Vidart, University of Connecticut

This paper revisits the link between electrification and the rise in female labor force participation (LFP), and presents theoretical and empirical evidence showing that electrification triggered a rise in female LFP by increasing market opportunities for skilled women. I formalize my theory in an overlapping generations model and find that my mechanism explains one quarter of the rise in female LFP during the rollout of electricity in the United States (1880–1940), and matches the slow decline in female home-production hours during this period. I then present micro-evidence supporting my theory using newly digitized data on the early electrification of the United States.