Lab Events

Gender-Based Labor Legislation and Employment: Historical Evidence from the United States

Joanne Haddad

Gender-Based Labor Legislation and Employment: Historical Evidence from the United States

by Joanne Haddad (Université Libre de Bruxelles)

You may follow the seminar at the following link:



By the end of the Progressive reform era, the majority of U.S. states had enacted at least one form of labor legislation for women. We examine the impact of three previously unexplored legislation: seating, regulatory and night-work laws, on female employment. Given that not all states adopted these laws, and the staggered nature of adoption, we rely on a difference-in-differences strategy design to estimate short and medium-term causal effects on female gainful employment. Our findings indicate that laws regulating health and safety conditions and restricting women's night work increased the likelihood of female employment by about 4% to 8%, accounting to about 10% to 20% from the total increase during our period of analysis. Examining heterogeneous effects reveals that younger and married women without children witnessed the largest increase in the share of employment. We also document that native, higher-class and literate women were also incentivized to join the workforce. During the late nineteenth century, women faced significant barriers to employment due to high opportunity costs and societal barriers and stigma, resulting in an inelastic female labor supply, characterized by a limited substitution effect and a substantial (negative) income effect. The affected categories of women suggest that gender-based labor laws played a crucial role in altering societal norms and women's attitudes and incentives towards employment, ultimately leading to an increase in female labor supply. Our findings hold important implications for policymakers and advocates seeking to promote gender equality in the labor market.


Joanne Haddad is an FNRS post-doctoral research fellow based at ECARES, Université Libre de Bruxelles. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Ottawa, following a Master's in Economics from the American University of Beirut and a Bachelor's degree from Université Saint Joseph. She is an applied microeconomist with research interests spanning gender and demographic economics, labor economics, economic history, and political economy. Her research investigates gender disparities in the labor market, demographic shifts, and the impact of immigrants and their cultural backgrounds on host societies and prevailing norms. Her particular focus lies in the formation of cultural norms and the socio-economic consequences of historical events in explaining present-day outcomes, with a primary emphasis on minority groups, attitudes towards them, female empowerment and massive migration.