Abstract

The secular rise in female labor force participation, highlighted in the recent macroeconomics literature on growth and structural change, has been associated with the declining price and wider availability of home appliances. This paper uses a new and unique country data set on the price of home appliances to test its impact on female labor supply. We assess the role of the price of appliances in raising participation by comparing it to other structural determinants such as average male income. A decrease in the relative price of appliances—the ratio of the price of appliances to the consumer price index—leads to a substantial and statistically significant increase in female labor force participation. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the decline in the relative price of home appliances alone accounts for about 10% to 15% of the increase in female labor force participation from 1975 to 1999. This result is robust to the inclusion of additional controls, such as country dummies, time trend, government spending, and the growth rate of real GDP. To assess causality, we test for exogeneity and use the manufactured price index and the terms of trade adjustment as instrumental variables confirming that lower appliance prices lead to increased female participation.

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