An Examination of Cross-Country Differences in the Gender Gap in Labor Force Participation Rates

Heather Antecol (Illinois State University)

October 1999

Using evidence on variation in the gender gap in labor force participation rates(LFPR) across home country groups in the United States, this paper attempts to assess the role of two factors, human capital and culture, in explaining why cross-country differences exist in these gaps. While human capital factors play a limited role, as controlling for these factors does not eliminate variation in the gender gap in LFPR across home country groups, cultural factors, such as tastes regarding family structure and women's role in market versus home work, appear to be important. In particular, for first generation immigrants, I find that over half of the overall variation in the gender gap in LFPR across home country groups within the United States can be attributed to home country LFPR. This finding suggests that there must be a permanent, portable factor, i.e. culture, that is not captured by observed human capital measures and not related to labor market institutions, that affects outcomes. As the overall variation in the unadjusted gender gap in LFPR and the role of home country LFPR are smaller for second-and-higher generation immigrants, there exists evidence of cultural assimilation as well.

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